Which Is Worse: An Emotional Affair Or A Physical Affair? (And Can You Recover From Either?)

Affairs always make things painful and messy, so is there any hope for recovering from one?

By Keelia Clarkson3 min read
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An affair is a deeply hurtful thing for anyone to go through. It violates a person’s trust in their spouse, makes them overthink and question every single interaction from then on, and causes them to wonder if the relationship is even salvageable after such a grave offense.

When the word “affair” is thrown around, there are a few things that come to mind: hidden text messages, secret meetups, and sneaking around behind the other spouse’s back. Our minds immediately envision a physical affair, maybe involving a coworker or someone he met online.

But while that’s the first thing that pops up in our mind, there are actually different types of affairs – and the one that tends to get ignored is the emotional affair.

What Is an Emotional Affair?

Most emotional affairs begin as friendships and slowly brew and grow into something in between a full-blown romance and platonic relationship. While physical boundaries aren’t crossed in an emotional affair, a person's heart and mind become entangled with someone other than their spouse.

They may begin to feel more understood by this other person than they do by their spouse, engage in long, vulnerable conversations on the phone or through text, tell them secrets and struggles that they may not have even told their spouse, begin spending less dedicated time with their spouse, unfairly compare their spouse to this person, and even hide their relationship with them.

In an emotional affair, a person's heart and mind become entangled with someone other than their spouse.

And the most common reaction to an emotional affair? “Well, at least it didn’t get physical.” Sure, that’s good… But is an emotional affair really any better than a physical one?

But Is an Emotional Affair Really Any Better?

We can’t ignore that not having crossed physical boundaries is “preferable” to most. There is something uniquely painful about an affair that not only involves the emotional aspects that only a committed relationship should have, but the physical ones too. 

A physical affair can feel to the wife who was cheated on as if there’s nothing left that’s “hers” that the other woman didn’t also experience. Along with that, there are countless decisions a cheater makes before anything physical ever happens; so by the time anything physical happens, he allowed a whole host of other things to grow and occur.

That being said, an emotional affair isn’t something to ignore. In this scenario, he still had another woman that he treated more like a wife than he did us; he still engaged with another woman inappropriately. 

Experts say that emotional affairs can breed resentment, distance, and loss of self-esteem, leading to emotions that are just as real and difficult as if he’d had a physical affair. Emotional affairs shouldn’t be written off as less painful, serious, or indicative of an issue in the relationship.

Why Do Emotional Affairs Happen?

Obviously, affairs are never okay; there are a million ways someone can deal with the problems in their marriage before they choose to be unfaithful. However, the motive behind having a physical affair verses an emotional affair is likely different; one is clearly more interested in getting physical desires met, so why would anyone have an emotional affair?

Emotional affairs could occur due to a spouse feeling neglected, uncared for, or misunderstood.

Emotional affairs could occur due to a spouse feeling neglected, uncared for, or misunderstood – but they aren’t looking to satisfy a sexual desire. Rather, they’re looking for some kind of emotional connection that, for whatever reason, they feel is missing from their marriage. We can acknowledge why someone might become involved in an emotional affair while recognizing that any kind of affair is unacceptable.

Is It Possible To Recover from an Affair?

Whether or not a couple chooses to move past an affair is a deeply personal decision. Their relationship’s unique dynamic, history, and personalities will inform whether or not it’s worth it to try to rebuild the trust that’s been lost after an affair, be it physical or emotional. There is no one answer to suit all couples and situations.

But there are a few ways we can assess if it’s prudent to attempt to move past an affair. Does he show genuine remorse for his actions? Is he willing to listen to your feelings and take responsibility for hurting you? Does he display new, healthy behaviors? Is he open to starting couple’s counseling? Has he cut off all communication with the other woman? Do you truly think you’ll ever be able to get over this? (Bear in mind, it’s perfectly okay if the answer to that is no.)

Closing Thoughts

An affair of any kind will always be painful and cause someone to question whether or not the marriage can healthily continue – and ultimately, there’s no single answer that will serve every couple well. But if you choose to move past it, do so with grace for your husband and care for yourself.

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