The recovery process after an emotional affair is never straightforward. It will take time to rebuild trust with your partner and fix what was broken.
However, recovering from an emotional affair isn’t impossible, as long as you’re both willing to put in the work, which could mean attending couples therapy and learning to rebuild the emotional connection which your partner has abused.
Kendra Capalbo, a licensed couples therapist at Esclusiva Couples Retreats, explains how to start recovering from an emotional affair and what the process looks like.
There is no set limit on how long it will take to get over an emotional affair, but, couples counseling will help the betrayed partner and the cheater understand each other on a deeper level.
Capalbo believes it can also depend on the extent of the emotional infidelity. “It can vary depending on the case,” she explains. “It could take a couple of months all the way up to several years depending on the severity, length, impact, etc. of the emotional affair.”
If you’re the betrayed partner, the first thing to do is look after your own self-care. The affair will be hard to deal with on an emotional level so make sure your mental health is protected — by confiding in close friends and even journaling your emotions.
While as a couple, as long as both parties are willing to understand and listen to each other, says Capalbo, then marriage counseling can be the best option.
“It takes a lot of communication, time, honesty, and changed behavior from the partner who had the affair to overcome it,” she says. “It’s good to identify why the affair happened in the first place, and what this means if the couple wants to stay together, work it out, and end the affair.”
Capalbo explains the emotional affair signs you should look out for when you could suspect your partner has been unfaithful.
They may claim that they are just friends or co-workers but if your partner is talking to the person more than they are with you this could be a clear sign of emotional cheating.
Lying about what they discuss with them or how often they talk to them. Your partner could be having their emotional needs met by the other person. Emotional affairs often start when one partner starts confiding in someone else about problems in their relationship.
Changing/improving your appearance for when they see this person.
Pulling back physically or emotionally from your current relationship. Usually, when the connection feels really "off" between partners, an emotional affair could be the cause of that.
Being secretive with social media or their phone.
Often it’s tough to know for sure if your partner is having an emotional affair, even if all the signs are pointing that way.
Capalbo says unless they tell you directly, people usually find out by the “evidence of conversation whether that be texts, messages, hearing a phone call, social media messages or finding out that their partner has lied about where they are going or who they are seeing.”
An affair of the heart can turn into a sexual affair, says Capalbo, especially if the infatuation is coupled with a strong emotional connection.
“When you think about it, there's a sexual component to emotional affairs, even if physical interaction or sex never happens — when it feels like an emotional affair, it's with someone that you can envision being sexual and intimate with, almost like having a crush on someone even if you never take it further.”
The relationship expert believes an emotional affair is still sexually intimate in nature. “If there is someone who you only consider a friend that you have emotional intimacy with, it probably won't feel like an affair but more like a friend you confide in for support. If it's with someone you desire to have sex with, even if you never have sex with them, that's when it starts to feel like an affair.”
If an emotional affair is contained quickly and there is no physical intimacy the emotional affair recovery may be quick. “If partners decide to turn back towards each other before an emotional affair gets any further, the damage could be minimal,” adds Capalbo.
However, if the cheater takes the affair further it could be more damaging. “If an emotional affair lasts a long time, is lied about, and leads to someone feeling more in love with them than they are in their current relationship that's when it can be the most damaging and can even end relationships.”
It’s down to each individual couple, says Capalbo. “With the right motivation, help, and turning back towards each other, a marriage can absolutely survive after an emotional affair.”
She goes on to say that if you feel like you can't trust your partner, or that you have lost a sense of who they are it’s hard for the marriage to recover. “When you are skeptical of them, that's probably your gut feeling telling you something is wrong.”