An Emotional Affair: Is It Really Cheating?

July 6, 2008 at 7:22 PM ET

David Arquette and Courteney Cox
John Shearer/Wireimage /
David Arquette and Courteney Cox

News of the recent split between David Arquette and Courteney Cox shocked fans who assumed that their 11-year marriage was solid. What could have happened to break up a couple who talked openly about couples therapy and working hard at keeping their marriage successful? During a recent phone call to the Howard Stern radio show, Arquette says Cox was having an “emotional affair” with Cougar Town co-star Brian Van Holt.

Emotional affairs are on the rise because the ability to connect with more people outside of a marriage has increased. For example, there are more women in the workplace and, of course, the Internet has opened up new opportunities. Plus, it is also on the rise because many people convince themselves that as long as there is no sex, it's not an affair... but it is.

An affair really has to do with secrecy, deception of the partner and therefore betrayal. It also has to do with the amount of emotional energy you put into the new person that you therefore are not giving to your partner. Actually, most people are more disturbed by the breaking of trust than by sex in an affair. That betrayal of trust is the most difficult thing to recover from.

Many people have an emotional affair, yet due to their own denial don’t believe they are cheating. The denial keeps them guilt-free and they don’t have to give it up.

So how do you know if you are having emotional affair?
1. You keep meetings and conversations secret from your partner.
2. You say and do things with another person you never would in front of your spouse.
3. You make a point to arrange talk time with someone other than your partner.
4. You share things with another person that you don’t with your partner.

Most people were actually not looking for an affair. They find themselves interested in a new person and it becomes a slippery slope. At some point, if the relationship continues it often does lead to sex. The person may start to depend on them for the emotional highs and good feelings they give throughout during the day.

So often we don’t appreciate our relationship until we are about to lose it. If you have had an affair, you need to own up and take responsibility

Here's my advice if you think you're having an emotional affair:

  • End it! No halfway, no "kind of", no being friends…It has to end or you will still be in it and cannot build back your partner's trust.
  • Take responsibility. No one else did it but you. You need to own it to get past it.
  • Figure out why you did it. Was your marriage failing? Were you looking for self-esteem? Repeating the pattern of a parent who cheated?
  • Be trustworthy. The biggest obstacle to your relationship's survival is the betrayal, so you must be thoroughly open and trustworthy to build trust back. This means doing what your partner needs you to do (like coming home right after work, breaking off all contact with the other person).
  • It takes time. Rebuilding trust after betrayal takes time. You have to be patient and can’t expect your partner to just bounce back.

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.