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Emotional Strange Fire (affair) Part 1


Sometime last year we spoke about flirting and affairs in marriage. In that presentation we noted that they are four types of marital affairs, namely: object affairs, sexual affair, emotional affair and the secondary relationship. This week we are going to focus on the emotional strange fire or emotional affair.


What is an emotional affair?

It is the kind of intimacy developed with someone of the opposite sex other than the spouse. Though it does not involve sexual relations, this relationship or at least the depth of it, is always hidden from the spouse. It often starts as a friendship and develops over time into a strong bond between the two people involved.

Unlike a sexual affair one does not wake up one day and decides that I am going to have an emotional affair. One is more likely to gradually enter into the arena of emotional affair. Many people are surprised to discover how far they have gone and how deep they have fallen into this problem. An emotional affair is when a person not only invests more of their emotional energy outside their marriage, but also receives emotional support and companionship from the new relationship. It is also a fact that the notion of emotional affair can also apply to same sex friendship, siblings, parents or even kids.


How does it develop?

The emotional affair develops as the two people (friends) begin to share intimate details of their life with each other.

  • You may be going through some challenges in marriage and there is a communication breakdown between you and your spouse
  • Then you find a friend or a colleague who seem to be caring and understanding
  • That person makes you feel special and that makes you feel good.
  • Then you begin to open up more and more towards this person, and you like the feeling you have when you are with him/her.
  • As time goes on you starts to crave the emotional intimacy you receive from that person.


“Just friends”

Many of those who are involved in emotional affair always say we are just friends, but there is a difference between “just friends” and those involved in emotional affairs. Emotional affair happens when you have crossed the line of friendship and have entered the intimate grounds of intimacy reserved for your spouse.

Emotional affair is when:

  • “You begin to have feelings of attraction for your friend. You wonder what it would be like to kiss or touch your friend.
  • When you begin to share intimate or hurtful details of your relationship with one particular friend of the opposite sex.
  • You spend more energy longing for your friend than you do your spouse. When you’re with your spouse, you look forward to when you can get back to spending time with your friend.
  • You tend to hide information on your friendship from your partner. You Email, SMS or call each other in secret, and when asked how you two spent your time you have a tendency to lie.
  • When something about your friendship bothers your partner, and when he or she asks you about it you get uncomfortable or defensive.
  • You dream and fantasize about your friend, not your spouse”


Why Emotional Affair?

Human being are emotional beings, we always have a constant flow of emotional. Marriage creates the conduit through which we can share these emotions with each other, which in turn, develops and strengthens intimacy between the husband and wife.  However, many marriages face a number of challenges which might range from small misunderstandings to huge conflicts. Sometimes it is not even misunderstandings, but it just lack of excitement or spark in marriage that leads to unhappiness. Now, if marriage is a conduit for sharing emotions, then all of these challenges have a way of clogging the conduit so that the flow of emotion is difficult or impossible. This in turn leads to a build up of emotional pressure since the emotions of one side can’t flow to the other side. Now, the temptation is to start releasing those emotions to someone close by, a friend, a co-worker, etc. which may lead to an emotional affair. Emotional affair becomes an outlet that temporarily relieves the emotional pressure whilst at the same time poisoning and destroying the marriage relationship.


Why should we be concerned about emotional affairs?

  • Although those who are involved in emotional affairs are often without much guilt because there is no sex involved, their spouses often view an emotional affair as damaging as a sexual affair. In some cases it is even worse than a sexual affair because it is not just physical (one night stand) but it involves the heart.
  • Much of the pain and hurt from an emotional affair is due to the deception, lies, and feelings of being betrayed.
  • The emotional affair steals intimacy from marriage and leaves the marriage dry and bankrupt. As your emotional needs are met somewhere there is no need to invest too much time and effort in resolving the challenges in marriage, after all your fulfilment is found somewhere else.
  • Another dimension is that in an emotional affair, a person feels closer to the other party and may experience increasing sexual tension. In fact, we are told almost 50% of those involved in emotional affair will develop into a full-blown affair which includes sexual relations.

To be continued…




Before you know it, you are sharing the deepest intimate details of your marriage. What’s the harm in this? The harm comes in the separation that has now occurred between you and your spouse. You have crossed a marital boundary. God has commanded us to be faithful to our spouses. Emotional affair is adultery

Regardless of the rationalization behind it, emotional affair is an expression of either the need or the desire to absent oneself from one’s primary relationship, without actually leaving that relationship. Therein lies the core of the issue, and it is what defines emotional affair as if not exactly the same at least the social equivalent of sexual affair.

Whether you are physical engaged with another person or not, when you absent yourself from your primary relationship you are taking your attention away from that relationship in a way that interferes with it. It comes back to emotional availability. A great cinematic depiction of this is an interchange between Hilary Swank’s character and that of her husband in Freedom Writers. He’s not getting his needs met because she’s focused on her students, so he ends up leaving.

What really complicates matters is that for the “cheating” partner, there is no real sense that s/he has transgressed because s/he isn’t “doing anything” that can be demonstrated as “cheating”, i.e. sex. Non-interpersonal “cheating” behavior is rationalized away as a necessity – long hours, relaxation, working out, etc. In the case of interpersonal emotional affair, the same sensibility holds true.


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