Emotional Affairs at Work: 7 Signs Your Marriage is at Risk

By:
Michael Tierney
Updated
September 22, 2022

When we marry, the person we marry is our partner in everything from the moment the marriage is finalized. This means that there is a profound understanding and compromise between you and your spouse. This intimate connection allows you to address any concerns either of you has, but it also produces a deep familiarity.

Familiarity with your spouse grants you certain insight into their personalities and allows you to detect subtle shifts when something is troubling them. It also allows you to notice changes in their behavior. When you spend enough time with somebody, especially a spouse, you learn their behavior patterns, and it is fairly noticeable when they deviate. In some cases, this deviation might have less to do with a "what" and more with a "who."

If your spouse works full-time, or even part-time, in a position where they regularly interact with their co-workers, they are bound to form connections with those people. Inter-office friendships are common and highly beneficial to one's mental health when working, especially in high-pressure positions.

It stands to reason that your spouse might form a stronger bond with a specific co-worker who fills the role of "best friend" at the office. Sometimes, these bonds go far deeper than they normally would, and their relationship with their office friend leads to a deeply emotional connection.

Solution What is truly troubling is that these bonds can become "emotional affairs," and this co-worker could come to know more about your spouse than you.

Keeping an eye out for certain behaviors can help identify such situations.

What is an Emotional Affair?

The term "emotional affair" might seem odd to you, which makes defining the concept an important part of identifying them. As human beings, we have a limited capacity for opening up to others emotionally, and our spouses expect to be the recipient of that ability. This is not to say it is impossible to open up with friends and family, but the most intimate of concerns and feelings are often reserved for our significant other.

Solution An emotional affair occurs when we confide these most intimate feelings to someone other than our spouse, especially someone of the same sex.

It is worth noting that emotional affairs can begin as innocuous friendships where the bond between your spouse and a close friend becomes deep enough to warrant confiding. Unfortunately, confiding in someone other than you often has the unintended consequence of satisfying their emotional needs before you hear of the problem. This can lead to the platonic nature of your spouse's relationship with their co-worker becoming more romantic than originally intended.

An Emotional Affair

This is because they have exposed their deeper emotional issues to someone outside the marriage. However, an emotional affair only applies to their willingness to expose their emotional issues to this other person. Not every emotional affair goes further than sharing details best shared with you, but it can negatively affect your relationship. In some cases, an emotional affair can lead to outright infidelity. Determining whether your spouse is sharing these emotional tribulations with someone else can be difficult unless you know what to look for in your spouse.

#1: They Are Constantly Communicating 

One of the most obvious signs of an emotional affair involves the amount of communication your spouse maintains with a co-worker. Generally, people only communicate with their co-workers during work hours unless they develop a friendship outside the office. Even when these friendships develop, the communication levels are liable to increase, so your spouse can organize social outings and activities with this co-worker.

Spouse Texting Coworker

While this uptick in communication is reasonable when establishing a friendship, it usually does not take up time beyond daylight hours. If your spouse is constantly in communication with a co-worker via text message, phone call, or e-mail, it can indicate emotional investment in the other person.

If their contact with this co-worker bleeds into time usually spent with you, they may find emotional fulfillment in this co-worker instead. This means they will have less to invest in the marriage you share with them.

#2: They Are Constantly With Them

Similar to the previous section, another sign that your spouse might be involved in an emotional affair is if they are constantly around this co-worker. It is not uncommon to have social outings with co-workers with whom you feel close. These can include excursions to bars, restaurants, or lounges where you can unwind and chat.

The key detail is that these outings are once or twice a week at most and do not interfere with time spent at home with family. If your spouse is overly involved with a co-worker emotionally, these social outings are liable to increase in frequency.

Coworkers Hanging Out

Depending on how deeply they have come to rely on this person for emotional fulfillment, it can get to the point where most of their waking hours are spent out with this co-worker instead of at home. Instead of once or twice a week, they could spend the entire week with this person. An arrangement like this is worthy of concern since your spouse spends more time with a co-worker than you.

#3: They Compare You to Them

One more troubling and heartbreaking sign of an emotional affair is when your spouse actively compares you to this other person. These comparisons can start as small comments about how their co-worker friend does something one way, whereas you do it another. Eventually, these comparisons could become harsher and emerge during arguments about marital life. Your spouse may become more critical of anything you do and explain how their "friend" does it. This comparison can be devastating since it shows how much your spouse has come to appreciate this other person rather than you.

Couple Having an Argument

For example, you might suggest an evening out to your spouse only for them to counter with how the activities they do with their co-worker are more entertaining and how you should "be like them." Your spouse suddenly comparing you to someone else over any little thing is one of the biggest and most painful signs of an emotional affair. Unfortunately, other serious signs can be even more concerning.

#4: They Overshare With Them

Another devastating sign of an emotional affair involves how much of their personal life your spouse shares with this co-worker. Some details of your personal life are shared with friends, but the most intimate details are generally reserved for your spouse. Additionally, certain conversations and arguments with your spouse are meant to stay between you and no one else.

While your spouse is likely to confide in their friends with certain minor concerns or issues, if they share the more intimate details with a friend, it might be disconcerting. This concern can be amplified if the "friend" is someone with whom your spouse spends excessive time.

Coworkers Oversharing Details

A prime example of oversharing with a "friend" that might indicate an emotional affair is if you and your spouse have a major argument. It is not necessarily an argument about chores or how your spouse spends their time, but something serious like deciding on having children or attending couple's therapy. If your spouse turns around and divulges the argument to their "friend," it shows that they want to include this person in the more intimate and private conversations you share.

#5: They Are Defensive About Them

When you are concerned that your spouse is overly attached to a co-worker, you might feel compelled to confront them about the relationship. While it is reasonable to start the conversation a little aggressively, you will want to take a diplomatic approach, so they do not feel cornered.

This diplomatic approach is crucial to identifying another potential sign of an emotional affair.

Solution If you calmly ask about the nature of the relationship and avoid accusatory language, your spouse's response could prove extremely insightful. If your spouse becomes defensive or angry when you mention their relationship with their co-worker, it can tell you what you need to know.

If your spouse is overly defensive about their friendship and shows signs of anger, frustration, and irritation about the question, it could mean they are overly invested in this person.

Spouse Becoming Defensive

This is born from underlying guilt and knowledge that you are right, and they could not prevent this conversation from happening. The more aggressive they are in their defense of the relationship, the guiltier they feel.

#6: They Keep Secrets About Their Plans

Having a spouse who goes out with friends is not uncommon and is not inherently an issue but having a little insight into these plans is equally important. Usually, when we ask our significant other their plans for the day, they provide insight into the location, activity, and people going with them.

This information is not born from a desire to track your spouse's activities or location at all times but to have an idea in case there is a situation where they are needed. If your spouse is aware of their deep connection with their co-worker, they might try to avoid hang out with them in secret and keep you in the dark about their meeting.

Spouse Keeping Secrets

If your spouse begins omitting information about their plans with this co-worker or even omitting their presence, it could be a sign of an emotional affair. This connects to the previous point about being defensive. Because they feel guilt over their deep connection to this co-worker, they attempt to prevent you from knowing about their interactions with them. This sign can be more difficult to identify since you would likely need to violate your spouse's privacy to catch them in the lie.

#7: They Flirt With Them

This is far more extreme and a sign that the emotional affair might lead to a physical affair. There is no greater pain than seeing your spouse flirt with someone else when they are meant to be loyal to you. Playful flirting is common in office settings, and it can be innocuous at times, but that does not make it easier to accept when your spouse flirts with someone else. While your spouse might genuinely be flirting as a joke or out of friendliness, it is more likely that they are expressing interest in this co-worker. However, this is not a conclusion you should immediately make.

Flirting With a Coworker

If your spouse is flirting with a co-worker while showing any of the previously discussed behaviors, it can cause concern. If this co-worker is absorbing a great deal of your spouse's time and thoughts, they likely have a deeper connection to them than just friendship. Flirting can be even more difficult to observe than secrecy since your spouse will likely avoid doing so in front of you. If you can catch them flirting with a co-worker while they show the other signs discussed here, it might spell trouble for your marriage.

Learn the Law

Emotional affairs can be more heartbreaking than physical affairs only because physical affairs are usually only about sex. An emotional affair means your spouse might be phasing you out of their lives emotionally and mentally, which can be devastating. No one wants to see their spouse replace them with someone else, even if they do not have a romantic interest in this other person.

Having your spouse confide in another person emotionally can make you feel unimportant or that your spouse does not trust you with their emotional tribulations. Eventually, these emotional affairs can destroy your marriage since your spouse is no longer willing to be emotionally open with you.

Divorce Law

In some cases, emotional affairs can lead to divorce since your spouse will not always be willing or able to correct the relationship. We know divorce is not the result you want and that you would almost certainly prefer reconciliation and your spouse realizing the issue of their emotional affair.

Unfortunately, divorce is a potential outcome you might have to consider if your spouse shows no remorse or regret over the situation. While divorce should be a last resort in this situation, it can be helpful to learn more about the process so you can be prepared. Fortunately, such knowledge is easier to come by than it was in the past. We only hope this article proved helpful to your situation.

Written By:
Michael Tierney
Michael is a legal writer and graduate of WSU. Prior to becoming a legal writer, he had 6 years of experience as a legal assistant and office manager for a family law attorney. He's written about numerous legal subjects from helping spouses who are stuck in toxic situations to the intricacies of custody battles. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and building custom keyboards.

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