Are You Having an Emotional Affair? Is Your Partner Having an Emotional Affair??

Couples impacted by ADHD often must deal with the question of emotional affairs. This post will help you explore emotional affairs for couples impacted by ADHD, including providing hard data about the incidence of emotional affairs for adult couples impacted by ADHD.  The best way to start the conversation is to ‘hone in on it’ by looking at ‘definitely’ and ‘definitely not’ scenarios.

Yes - Definitely an Emotional Affair

You’re met someone whom you think is really great, and to whom you are attracted physically or emotionally, or both.  You feel you have a lot in common, and find yourself thinking about that person when you are not together, wondering what they might think about something that just happened, or wanting to share what just happened to you.  You might text them to share fun things, or create ways to run into each other.  You find yourself sharing your concerns and feelings about your current relationship because they provide you a sympathetic ear, or being the shoulder that person cries on about his or her relationship.  The engagement with this person replaces engagement you should be having with your own partner.

Yes – Also Definitely an Emotional Affair

You are feeling lonely in your own relationship or are suffering from a real struggle there.  You know that you should be working on fixing things, but you just don’t have the energy…and, besides, this other person is so much nicer to talk to…more appreciative, someone who really ‘gets’ you.  Your conversations with this other person highlight what you are missing in your own relationship and, rather than using that insight to go back and work it out with your primary partner, you start longing to be with that other person.  Your relationship with this affair partner makes your current relationship feel even worse and makes you lose interest in engaging with your partner, even though your friendship is not sexual.

No – Definitely Not an Emotional Affair

You are struggling in your primary relationship and you share this with someone you care about, who acts as a sounding board.  As you talk with this person you start to feel better or your thoughts coalesce around what you need to do.  You re-engage your primary partner with purpose, and may even share that you had talked with that other person and it was helpful for you as a way to clarify your thoughts.  You think of this person as a close friend, but feel no unusual attraction to him or her.

No – Also Definitely Not an Emotional Affair

You work with a lot of people, and often have to work late.  There are, of course, people whom you enjoy and sometimes have to work late with.  Your partner is concerned about this, but even if you notice that one of them has singled you out as someone special, you are careful to communicate boundaries to that person. You don’t meet with them one on one, for example, or you simply tell them that you are in a committed relationship and are careful not to cross personal lines as both you and your partner find the idea of doing so upsetting.  You redirect the conversation when it gets too personal, focusing on shared hobbies and work, instead. 

Emotional Affairs – The Bottom Line

With an emotional affair there is a ‘tug’ that you know, if you are honest with yourself, shouldn’t be there. There is a ‘lightness’ and eagerness to be with a person that you don’t feel with others who are just friends.  And a hallmark of emotional affairs is that they interfere in your current relationship – either right now, or having the potential to do so in the future.

How Common Are Emotional Affairs?

Emotional affairs are common, according to research with about 3,000 ADHD and non-ADHD adults in ADHD-impacted relationships done by Ari Tuckman.  Partners with ADHD have more of them than those without, which makes sense. It can be difficult for those with ADHD to put off something that feels good today for the purpose of a longer term goal (i.e. keeping your relationship intact.)  BUT, those without ADHD are also having a good number of emotional affairs in these often struggling relationships.  In the research, Tuckman defined an emotional affair as being involved with another in a way that would have made your partner uncomfortable.  Here are the numbers:

Percent of Group Having Had an Emotional Affair While in a Committed Relationship

Women with ADHD:  49%

Women without ADHD:  36%

Men with ADHD:  43%

Men without ADHD:  25%

Do I Need to Worry About My Partner?

I’m a big believer in giving one’s partner the benefit of the doubt.  After all, just because we fear something doesn’t mean it’s true.  That said, my experience has been that your gut instincts are often helpful in understanding whether or not a partner may be cheating either emotionally or physically.  In fact, your gut may indicate something isn’t right even before your brain is ready to acknowledge it.

The issue is that affairs of all sorts tend to happen when couples are distressed.  So you may not be in the best place to bring something like this up.  Do so, anyway.  But be careful to talk about your own feelings rather than to focus on blame.  You want your partner to understand and empathize with your concerns, not run and hide from accusations that may or may not be true.

What kinds of things might signal an affair?  Here are just a few – a sudden increase in texting, Facebook or Instagram posting; a sudden improvement in general mood coupled with a decrease in engagement with you; more nights out than has historically been the case, or a dramatic shift in a pattern that has been steady for many years.  (As an example, the first time I realized my husband was having a physical affair was when two shifts happened in the same night – for the first time in over 2 decades he declared he was too tired to drive home from work in CT, which he had previously done no matter the time, and when I called him back to ask him about that, his cell phone was turned off – again, something he NEVER did.  The alarm bells rang.)  Other signs are that your partner suddenly loses patience with you; stops being willing to listen to your feelings when s/he previously did so; or starts to bring you unexpected gifts for the first time and you wonder if they are out of guilt.

Talking about someone at the office doesn’t necessarily indicate an affair – in fact you want your partner to talk about his or her experiences at the office.  But talking about them in a way that is illogical or outside the norm of many years of conversations, should make you pay attention.

Finally, take the relationship context into account – if you are both really struggling, the chances of an affair increase.  If things are good between you and both seem genuinely happy, it’s not as likely…even if you do harbor concerns.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Partner is Having an Emotional Affair

Don’t panic.  And don’t attack.  These are likely to send your partner into defensive mode whether or not he or she is having an emotional affair.  Instead, explain that you are nervous, and why.  Be calm.  Stay focused on you and your feelings, rather than your partner’s actions.  See how your partner responds.  If s/he takes your concerns seriously, and offers to change up the interactions with the person in question to create specific boundaries, you likely have nothing to worry about.  It is also helpful if your partner is willing to have a continuing conversation about the topic and/or offers up suggestions that might help ease your concerns.  A few of these that I have seen work include getting a GPS tracking system on your phones so you know that your partner is really at the office when s/he says s/he is; unfriending the person in question on digital media; and letting you meet that person so you can judge for yourself the type of relationship they share. 

If your partner insists you are crazy, this assertion will not calm you.  You may wish to seek couples counseling so a third party can help the two of you negotiate the hurt and concerns you are feeling.  It is important to work this one out carefully but thoroughly.  Otherwise your fears and anxiety color all of the interactions you start to have.  Simultaneously, you may wish to explore self-calming exercises such as deep breathing so that when you do feel the anxiety creep in you can address it.  There is not much worse than that awful ‘bottom of your stomach falling out’ feeling when you are concerned about your partner’s loyalty.

Finally, if you think there is an emotional affair, or you find out that there really is one, look towards your relationship.  These things don’t happen in a vacuum.  Usually, they indicate deep dissatisfaction and a need for significant improvements.  Look to yourself to see how you might change your own patterns in your relationship, while asking your partner to engage with you around creating a happier life together.


very hurt

My husband and I have been having problems for years. Like so many spouses of ADD people I felt isolated and lonely. My husband is an untreated for his ADD. I also have an 18 year old son who is currently treated. My husbands closest friends seem to be just like him, and have made matters infinitely worse for me. He parties and gets high with these men on the weekends and they send lots of porn back and forth. I have tried very hard to help my son make wise choices and get help for his ADD. My husband seems to be more of a problem than my son at this point, hence I've become more of a nagging mother to him. Recently the other shoe dropped, I found out that he was having a cyber affair with an old high school girl friend. He told me that there was only one gift that it only lasted a few months and that they never met in person. I found that all of the above was not true. The man who has trouble buying me a christmas gift sent this woman several expensive well thought out gifts. I also realized that they had both connived to meet at her high school reunion. I had always trusted my husband, even when things were bad, I would think, well at least he's faithful. I started looking some more and found out that he was talking to several woman that he had known from the past all of them were either divorced or single. He would always start out by saying how wonderful they looked and always tell them that he loved and missed them. Right now I'm still in shock and my emotions are all over the place. I asked him to leave our house last Sunday. I needed space and to clear my head. He says either I'm going to forgive him or not and I needed to make up my mind. This only serves to make me feel more threatened. He would like to just sweep everything under the rug. He has told me that he doesn't want anyone to know what he did. He says he wants our marriage to work but right now I feel that it is more about him maintaining a perfect public image. We saw a marriage counselor on the Saturday before he moved out and I've told him that I would meet him at the next appointment. Right now I don't know if I even want to try, but I worry about the affect a divorce would have on my son's personal self image. Right now my husband seems to be trying to shift the blame for his actions on me and that only infuriates me further. I have asked for total transparency on his part but he isn't giving it. Has anyone recovered from this kind of pain? Is there any hope or is it time to move on?


So sorry

Very Hurt.

I understand but I don't have any easy answers for you.  I am very sorry you are going through this situation.  I wish I could pour a glass of champagne and give you a magic pill to make it all go away, but I can't.

I found my H on Ashley Madison and Plenty of Fish two years and two months ago.  I don't know if he had a physical affair.  I may never know because he is unwilling to release anything - no credit card statements, bank statements, phone records - big fat nada.  So in my mind, I've treated the situation as if he had a physical affair.  I don't see much difference between your husband's physical affair and the inappropriate communications. This is my opinion only.  I don't believe ADHD causes lying or affairs. 

Last week I found him with "bad stuff" all over an instagram account.  I found out he had lied to me on my birthday and asked a friend to cover.  He asked the same friend for the contact information of his old girlfriend.  

The first thing I am going to say to you is it hurts.  It is going to hurt like hell.  You will go through stages of grief over this.  No one will tell you that the stages of grief may come and go and overlap one another so once you think you're finished with one area you may find it coming back around again.  Intellectually you may understand that it has nothing to do with you, but it probably won't feel like that emotionally. 

I still hurt.  I am having a hard time getting out of the anger phase.  If I am honest with myself, I know I am having a difficult time with it because then I have to face the underlying profound sadness and like a child, I don't feel like it.  The anger has been a piece of armor. 

You mentioned your child.  I was concerned about making a decision two years ago.  I worried about the affect on the kids.  Interestingly enough, both children, unprovoked, have come to me and said (1) I deserve better and (2) H didn't teach them much about being a good H or father unless by negative example. 

1.  There was not only an affair but several or many inappropriate conversations going on.  Not good.  At. All.  It's not a situation that fell in his lap so to speak.  He was looking and engaged. 

2.  He wants you to forgive him "or not."  This is a weasel answer devoid of any personal responsibility.  It's not that easy.  The words he says and the actions he takes now have a direct impact on your ability to heal. It's easy for me to say he shouldn't be afforded the luxury of sweeping it all under the rug -  but he shouldn't. This is a situation he caused and he is also handing you the unfortunate responsibility of calling the marriage over or not.  Life isn't fair but that isn't fair to you. That's why you feel threatened. It takes awhile to decide if you want to forgive or not. He had the affair and wants you to decide whether or not the marriage continues?  Or.... he could decide whether or not he wants to fight for it and do the work required.  

3.  By not acknowledging your pain the affect of his actions, you will remain stuck and unable to move forward for much longer than necessary, making it more difficult to heal and forgive.  (right, ask me how I know this LOL ) 

4.  Of course he doesn't want anyone to know about his shameful behavior.  I personally chose not to publicly disclose, mostly because I didn't want to deal with eyes on me.  It seems like a big "ask".. From experience, faking it in public is difficult.  I don't know your situation.  My H works hard.  It's his hyperfocus.  Therefore, people are always congratulating him on being such a great guy and so dedicated.  It's hard when you just want to scream the truth - no no no, he's not such a great guy. Smile. I've curtailed a lot of social drinking these days because I don't want to be tempted to say things. 

5.  Therapy will dig into the causation but arbitrarily shuffling guilt to you via blame - not cool.  

6.  Pay very close attention to whether or not he seems capable of taking personal responsibility at this time.

7.  I asked for transparency and have not received it.  It allowed for continued deceit.  If there was anything I could do over, it would have been not to accept the lack of transparency.  It was only the actual legitimate threat of divorce that made H provide partial transparency. Turns out my H didn't want to be held accountable.  In my opinion, no desire for transparency = desire to keep the situation open for future transgressions. Also, see previous regarding remaining stuck.  Transparency is what is required to get yourself past all of this. 

Advice is free so you may accept or decline as suits.

As a final note, if you find anything else in the future, you get to revisit all of those grief cycles again. Hello old friends.  

My heart goes out to you.  I wish you the best with these circumstances.  






Thanks for your reply

Thank-you for taking the time to reply. It means a lot to find a place where others know what I am going through. I do cycle through anger and sadness. One moment I am resolute on leaving him, the next moment I think what if there is a chance. I also just found that my H and Buddies are doing hippie crack, marijuana, shrooms, and drinking heavily on the weekends. Of course he'd rather do that than spend time with me. I still can't believe the web of lies. My friends are helping me to visualize life without him. I realize how much stress and anger that has built up even before I found out about all of this. I would be willing to work at our relationship if my H would show he was willing to work to regain my trust and choose some new friends. I know I can't make him do any of this so it probably is time to move on.

Treatment social bonds communication skills

First, to (the first spouse)....that your son is receiving support which includes treatment is the most significant sign of your healthy relationship with your son, and also a ballast for yourself.  It sounds like your husband's substance use has increased.....

While I have received treatment since 2003 for ADHD and continue to see my adrenalin addiction cycles play out, I see growth occurring in accepting more deeply my unmet childhood needs and have included my wife in consult with my Psychiatrist about medication protocols and tx issues and plans.


Context wise, I disclose the personal because, relative to your husband's needs and issues,  treatment can include (as Melissa has encouraged for those with ADD or HD ....mindfulness classes).  I would stress that for me "Dialectical behavior and Mindfulness"  class remains a key as it provides applied skills I've never learned before now.  Most all the persons in the class, I would guess, are over 40 and I would say half have taken the modules a couple of times to learn better emotional regulation, interpersonal communication, and distress tolerance skills.  

So, in sum, it has taken many years since listening to my spouse in 2003 when she said I needed to address intolerable issues for her at home.  "Driven to Distraction", "ADD a Different Perception" helped invite the dialogue to try Adderal. I was in a Men's group for 20 years; this helped me to stop projecting unrealistic expectations on my spouse for unmet needs I've had for male fellowship.


There is more open accountability (a GPS of sorts) with my ADD/anxiety issues, as I'm gaining more confidence in communication and relational skills ---so less of those those underground issues remain unconscious.  And, while my wife has had a few more ultimatums in our 28 years together, we "have our ups and downs and we're still playing together".  Or, we are "war buddies".  In another ADHD & Marriage blog re: long term couples, I've addressed where I'm at with a different view of relationship and how I feel more content and renewed.

  At 58, I relate to the " emotional affairs" topic as it goes part n' parcel with a lack of intimacy with self and other. I am more accepting of ambiguity in myself and in my wife's nature.   I've been gaining more potent ability to see habitual tendencies to overdue (overwork) out of insecurity, craving or lusting after the attention (experience) and/or fearing other's disappointment or rejection, more clearly.   It is getting a bit old---"The saint" my wife would say re: my public persona then, at home, my Nurse Ratchett demeanor--- reactive, overburdened and justified in being more aggressive in tone-- vindictive, and dominating when challenging issues arise. 

I've seen, I hope, the drama of this cycle and the unfulfilling reruns enough times, that I mute or at least half mute the volume or (at least) power down enough for the screen 'saver' to engage or to reboot.