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By Katie Bailey, MA, LPC

All marriages go through challenges sometimes. Finances, kids, work pressures, sex, extended family, really just life puts pressure on the best relationships. Marriages need constant attention and tune ups to make sure they function well. Otherwise, relationships suffer, and sometimes even fall apart.

Often in my work with couples, one spouse will have a friendship with someone of the opposite sex that bothers his or her partner. Most people think if this friendship concerns them, they are being controlling or overreacting. Truth is, if your radar is going off, you should pay attention. Emotional affairs are very real, and just as destructive, if not more so, than a sexual affair.

Your spouse should be your best friend. Your spouse should be your priority, in terms of your time, energy and efforts. Anything that is putting someone else before your spouse is a red flag.

Are you having an emotional affair? Here are some signs that friend might be creating a problem in your marriage.

1. You share more with the friend than you do with your spouse. If you are talking to this friend about your thoughts, feelings, and problems – especially problems in your marriage – you are connecting with the friend in ways you should be connecting with your spouse. Your partner should be your main confidant.

2. You focus on communicating with this person frequently, and likely hide it from your spouse. Are you preoccupied with texting this person? Do you quickly tuck your phone away or shut down your computer when your partner enters the room? Do your efforts to communicate with this person distract you from your spouse or family life?

3. You find ways to spend time together. Maybe you make up reasons to spend more time with this person. You have to stay late at work, or the person really needed your help, or…whatever you come up with to make sure you spend time together.

4. You often compare this person to your spouse. In your head you tell yourself this person really “gets” you and your spouse just doesn’t anymore. You point out all of this person’s good qualities, which highlights all your spouse’s faults. You tell yourself your spouse’s behavior has made you look for attention from this person, because your spouse has failed you.

5. You make this person a higher priority. Your first instinct is to share news with this person, not your spouse. All your attention, affection goes to this person. You’ve stopped holding your partner’s hand, hugging hello, or even having sex.

These are five huge red flags that you are having an emotional affair. Emotional connections with someone other than our spouse will absolutely damage your marriage. Honestly, something wasn’t quite right before the emotional affair began, but shifting your attention to another is not a beneficial way of working on your marriage.

If you recognize yourself in the behaviors listed above, you need to make some changes fast. You can turn the situation around, and you can repair your marriage. First you need to set very strong boundaries with the other person. You need to have as little contact as possible, and no contact when it’s just the two of you. You need to refocus on your spouse, and you can’t do that if your attention is still on another. Second, you need to ask yourself what is wrong in your marriage. And then you need to talk it through with your spouse. You both need to learn to heal past hurts and communicate clearly with each other. You need to rebuild your emotional connection and safety in your marriage.

Repairing this connection is a huge task. Most people cannot do it on their own. While it’s not an easy task, it absolutely can be done and, I promise, is worth every bit of your effort. As a marriage therapist, I love to help couples finally talk about the things they’ve been avoiding. I guide couples through conversations that might be too scary or overwhelming to have on their own. I teach couples new skills so they can learn to communicate on a deeper level on their own.

If your marriage is deteriorating, if an emotional affair has left its mark on your relationship, I can help you repair the damage and deepen your connection going forward with marriage counseling. Contact me today to set up an appointment, and let’s get started healing the hurts and rebuilding the trust.