While the lines of sexual or physical cheating are often clearly defined, the concept of emotional cheating is a bit more blurry. Even though the boundaries may not be as clear, emotional infidelity can still impact the quality of a relationship by creating tension between partners and causing shifts in trust.
The overarching idea concerning emotional cheating is that a bond between parties develops that mimics the closeness and intimacy of a romantic relationship without ever actually getting physical. One person channels emotional energy away from their partner and toward another person to the point that their partner feels neglected. While this common thread runs through all definitions of emotional infidelity, the term is still hard to fully define.
Where every person draws the line of emotional infidelity will be different. For some, that line may be if their partner is flirting with someone else. For others, it could be when their partner lies about someone who they claim is “just a friend.” Another example could be if their partner is deleting messages or hiding texts from another person. It could also take the form of downloading Tinder, talking to an ex or flirting with a new person in one of your classes while in a relationship. Whatever form it takes, emotional cheating can cause issues that may lead to instability and even the end of a relationship.
It’s necessary to distinguish between friendships that may be considered emotional cheating or just platonic. It’s extremely important to have close friendships, and it’s healthy to have things you talk to your friends about that you don’t discuss with your partner. When these friendships or discussions have the possibility to harm your partner, however, it’s important to reevaluate them.
So, why do people emotionally cheat? There’s a lot of specific reasons someone may be emotionally unfaithful, but the underlying cause is that they are not getting the fulfillment they desire from their relationship. Especially in long-term relationships, eventually the “puppy love” stage fades, and sometimes partners miss the constant attention and sense of infatuation their partner once gave them. When another person expresses interest in them, emotionally cheating may ensue.
Emotional cheating can have massive consequences for your relationship. It can lead to increased distance between partners as one partner confides in others, jealousy from the partner being cheated on, diminished trust between partners, decreased intimacy or lack or attraction between partners and a myriad of other problems. Emotional cheating greatly decreases the quality of a relationship and is just as serious as physical cheating.
Additionally, by leaving issues within relationships unresolved, partners hinder the stability of their relationship. It’s not enough just to treat the symptoms of an issue — partners must directly tackle the issue that led to cheating in the first place.
A good rule of thumb with relationships is that if you have to directly hide something from your partner because you know it would hurt them, you shouldn't be doing it. It’s important to communicate with your partner(s) about how you each define emotional cheating and to voice concern if you believe they may have any relationships that could lead to this.
If you, yourself, have a relationship that could be considered emotionally unfaithful, it is best to end the relationship completely or have a serious conversation and set distinct boundaries for the relationship. It’s important to evaluate why you are committing this action and address any issues in your relationship that may have led you to emotionally cheat. As unpleasant as it may be, if you are committing emotional infidelity, you must take responsibility for your actions and recognize that they were wrong.
In all relationships, it’s important to communicate and define your emotional needs. If you are having issues in your relationship, talk about them. Don’t just sweep them under the rug and assume they will disappear. Talking to your partner and respecting their boundaries and needs are intrinsic to having a healthy relationship and will help prevent emotional cheating.
Edited by Siena DeBolt | firstname.lastname@example.org