Emotional Affair: Is It Really Cheating?


When your spouse’s connection to their closest friend crosses the line from platonic to romantic, it can leave you feeling deceived, betrayed, and lonely. But do emotional affairs really count as cheating? Will the court consider your partner’s improper relationship in granting your Michigan divorce?

What is an Emotional Affair?

Most people know that physical intimacy – sex – with someone other than your spouse without their consent is adultery and can affect the legal issues around divorce. But what if the affair never became sexual or even physical? Is an emotional affair really cheating?

An emotional affair involves nonsexual intimacy with someone other than your spouse or partner. A platonic relationship with a best friend or coworker can sometimes cross the line into an emotional affair if:

  • It interferes with your intimacy (sexual or otherwise) with your spouse
  • The relationship is secret or hidden
  • The spouse in the emotional affair feels sexual attraction to the friend in question
  • You feel increased hostility around the topic of that friendship
  • You or your spouse spend increasing amounts of time around the friend
  • Household money is spent on gifts to or trips with the friend

A person involved in an emotional affair expends energy outside the marriage and receives substantial emotional support and companionship from someone other than their spouse. Approximately half of all emotional affairs eventually turn physical. However, even before a spouse is sexually unfaithful, an emotional affair can damage the marriage relationship, ultimately leading to divorce.

Is it Emotional Cheating or Jealousy?

It can be hard to draw a line between a close friendship and an emotional affair. When couples have not set clear boundaries around platonic relationships with potential sexual partners, there is a risk that what one sees as “just friends” will cause the other to suspect an emotional affair. In addition, when one partner is prone to jealousy or controlling behavior, claims of emotional cheating can quickly escalate, even around innocent friendship behavior. This jealousy can be caused by insecurity entirely unrelated to the alleged “cheating.” It can be just as toxic to a marriage relationship as an emotional affair.

How Will an Emotional Affair Affect Your Michigan Divorce?

An emotional affair can break down a couple’s marriage relationship and result in divorce. In those cases, you may want to know how emotional cheating will affect your divorce.

Adultery and No-Fault Divorce

Michigan is a no-fault divorce state. That means you do not have to prove that either spouse did anything wrong to get a divorce. Instead, you must show there has been a “breakdown in the marital relationship to the extent the objects of matrimony can no longer be preserved.” This is maybe the effect caused by an emotional affair.

Fault as a Factor for Spousal Support and Property Division

While you don’t need fault to get a divorce, Michigan law allows judges to consider fault when deciding spousal support and property division issues. If you are the victim of an emotional affair, you may want the judge to “make them pay” for their infidelity. However, hurt feelings generally aren’t enough to support a claim that “fault is a factor” in your divorce. Instead, you and your divorce attorney should look at the objective cost that the relationship has imposed on the family through lost time, financial costs, and other measurable harm.

Emotional Impacts of Affairs During Divorce

The larger impact of an emotional affair comes from the breakdown of trust between you and your spouse. Finding out about an emotional affair can create justifiable hard feelings, which can interfere with your ability to negotiate a fair resolution to your marriage. You may benefit from working with a divorce coach or therapist to separate your feelings of hurt over the affair from your decisions in the divorce action. At our law firm, we refer our clients to the very best divorce coaches.

Get Help Responding to an Emotional Affair

At Thacker Sleight, we understand how an emotional affair can end a marriage. Our experienced and empathetic divorce attorneys are dedicated to providing our clients exclusive, highly professional service that is personal and unique to their situation. If you need help with a family law matter, contact us at (616) 300-2367 to schedule a consultation. We will be there with and for you every step of the way.

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