7 signs a man could be having an emotional affair, according to psychology

No one likes a cheater, but what happens when the lines are blurred? What constitutes friendship and appropriate behavior and what crosses the line into the territory of emotional affairs?

According to some evolutionary psychological research, women tend to be more concerned about emotional affairs whereas men care more about sexual infidelity. 

However, more recent research suggests that gender may have less to do with it than age, with female-identifying students being more upset by emotional affairs than those who identify as male. 

However as the participants’ age group increased, the evidence showed that both men and women tended to be equally upset by emotional cheating.

And just to make matters even more confusing, a large-scale study of over 1000 people has shown that men and women define emotional cheating differently.  Forbes explains

“For men, emotional infidelity is best defined as a situation where a person creates emotional distance in a relationship by thinking about or spending an inordinate amount of time with another person, to the point that their partner feels rejected or ignored emotionally.”


“For women, emotional cheating consists of being “in love” or dedicated emotionally to someone else who has romantic potential.”

Either way, emotional affairs cause distress in relationships, so read on to find out some signs that your man might be having an emotional affair.

1) He keeps talking about his ‘work wife’ or ‘work husband’

Askmen’s blog discusses the concept of work wives and husbands. Someone that you feel very close to in your workplace. This is a tricky one since it is normal to form deep friendships at work, a place where we spend so many hours of our day.

So when is it too much?

This quote from Askmen suggests that you know it is an emotional affair when “your emotional affair partner can start taking more space in your life and inner world than your actual partner.”

While we can’t often know what is in someone’s inner world, we can start to notice that someone is constantly talking about and sharing intimate moments with a work colleague.

A friend of mine once got a huge crush on her ‘work husband’. She decided to come clean and tell her partner. He was very shocked and upset but as soon as she told him about it she realized that she didn’t really want the work husband in that way.

Together the couple worked through the issues and later got married, and are still together to this day!

2) You stumble upon overly intimate texts

I remember my first-ever boyfriend (of five years) having an emotional affair.

I was so young that I didn’t even know such a thing existed. The first thing I had heard about this girl was that she approached my ex at his work saying that she was ‘terribly, awfully sorry” but she had stolen a fruit pastel (candy) from him, and then gave him a whole new packet in return.

He said he thought this was pretty weird and didn’t mention her again. 

I don’t agree with looking through people’s texts, but several months later, I discovered flirty and even sexual texts from her quite by accident, while trying to check my horoscope on his confusing one-screen-line Ericsson mobile phone (anyone else remember those first tiny phones?!)

I then found a photo of her in his flat, and cards she had sent him with lots of flirty writing. He denied any sexual real life intimacy and I chose to believe him, but I was still extremely hurt by what I had seen. He promised to stop texting her and I forgave him – more or less! 

We did get past it, and boundary setting was very important for this, since what is and isn’t an emotional affair is pretty difficult to define.

3) He’s being secretive

Harley Therapy cautions against seeing things that are simply friendships as emotional affairs, and gives a series of examples of things that might be called an affair but probably are merely friendships.  

In their opinion the key factor is secrecy. Just like how my first boyfriend had never mentioned that he had become close to this girl, beyond the first candy encounter.

So if you realize that your man is hiding things from you, or acting shifty, it might be because of an emotional affair. Perhaps they are confused about their feelings. Open conversations are recommended to bring things from the shady into the light of day.

4) He’s sending hidden messages through song or other poetic means

signs a man has mentally and emotionally checked out of a relationship 7 signs a man could be having an emotional affair, according to psychology

In the comments section of the Harley Therapy page above, we see the story of a woman who realized that she was having an emotional affair with a married man. He would sing her favorite songs in their singing group, and she just thought that this was innocent fun. 

But one day she realized that he was trying to attract her, due to one of the songs (I wonder which one it was?!)

She cut their communication but felt extremely guilty and was questioning her character for getting that involved. She realized that she had been flattered by the attention of a younger man.

While you might agree that she was being a little harsh with herself, the lesson is that a man having an emotional affair may choose to send his messages in a covert way. Again, secrecy is part of this.

5) He’s changed his phone settings or passwords

So again we are back to secrecy and hiding things. 

A friend of mine realized her relationship was coming to an end when she started to get a feeling that her man was falling in love with a mutual friend.

She’s quite psychic and her ring finger kept tingling, but she shrugged it off as he had always been so honest.

However, she got suspicious when he changed his phone password, where previously he had insisted she knew what it was in case he ever wanted her to check it while he was working

6) He starts doing a lot for another person

A man having an emotional affair might want to please his crush in any way possible and so start doing things that are totally out of character.

For example, another sign my friend experienced was that while her boyfriend was normally pretty lazy and hated getting up early, he was suddenly offering lifts and all kinds of help to another girl. In the early hours of the morning!

A man in love or lust for someone else might just want to spend as much time as possible with his emotional affair buddy, and if you know your man, you’ll know when this just doesn’t feel right.

7) You feel him pulling away

For most couples, the hallmark of a good relationship is that you can share a lot together, and that you are the first people you turn to when good or bad things happen. Whether celebration or commiseration, your partner is your go-to person.

But if you start to notice that these important moments aren’t being shared with you anymore, or you only hear about them later, then it might be that he is confiding in someone else first. Leaving you feeling as if he is emotionally distancing himself from you.

Final thoughts

As we’ve seen, there is no one single definition of emotional affairs. So what constitutes cheating will be different for every partner. If you think your man is doing this to you, the best thing is to have an open and honest conversation.

Take some time to discuss what your boundaries are and how both of you can make sure that you feel respected and understood.

If necessary seek relationship counseling to help repair trust. Many couples have managed to move on from emotional affairs by tackling root causes such as feeling unfulfilled, bored, unheard, or simply getting carried away with excitement, as a relationship matures and changes.

Emotional affairs are painful to discover but with love and openness, you can move past them and become stronger than ever. If your partner can’t offer you that then it may be time to walk away.

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Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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