When you hear about someone cheating or having an affair, you often believe that someone cheated sexually. However, there is more than one form of infidelity out there. Did you know that emotional infidelity is also common? Cheating on someone is not always a physical encounter. It can also be a complex tangle of emotions that can be both difficult to recognize and to recover from. What is emotional cheating?
This guide to the signs of emotional affairs will tell you everything you need to know, including some tips on how to heal.
What Is Emotional Cheating?
An emotional affair—or emotional infidelity—is best described as a relationship charged with intimate feelings for someone other than a romantic partner. Usually, emotional cheating starts out innocently enough, often as an acquaintance that becomes a friendship. However, due to a certain chemistry, you end up investing a significant amount of time into this friendship, one that puts a wedge between you and your partner. The bond between you and your friend may become so strong that it threatens your relationship.
There are some people who believe that emotional infidelity can cause no harm. If there is no physical intimacy, what could the damage possibly be, right?
Well, even if there is no sex involved, there are emotions—very strong emotions. Sometimes, it is easier to stomach knowing that your partner had an affair because they were drunk than knowing they spent months developing an emotionally charged relationship with someone else.
Emotional Cheating vs. Platonic Friendship
It can be challenging to discern the difference between emotional cheating and a friendship at first glance. A platonic friendship is just that—platonic. There is no sexual chemistry involved. Yet, even platonic relationships can transpire into an emotional affair should enough energy be invested into it.
Emotional cheating crosses a boundary. It causes two people who would otherwise be friends to give one another a significant amount of attention. The result is a supercharged friendship that overshadows the connection you have with your partner or spouse.
How Does An Emotional Affair Differ From A Physical One?
Are emotional and physical affairs truly that different from one another? The answer is yes. Both are a form of infidelity, but that does not mean they happen the same way.
Physical affairs rely on physical contact. Two people meet, have sex, and continue on with their day. There may be some emotions involved, but many affairs are based on a physical transaction.
Emotional affairs do not have to have any physical connection. In other words, emotional cheating can take place anywhere, such as in a meeting, in an online chat room, or over the phone.
Both forms of infidelity will hurt the betrayed partner. However, as mentioned above, emotional infidelity can be just as, if not more, destructive than physical infidelity.
What Impact Does Emotional Cheating Have On A Relationship?
As you may suspect, emotional cheating can cause a relationship to fall apart. Affairs of any kind lead to depression, anger, disillusionment, and a plethora of other negative emotions. For those who are cheated on, an emotional affair can leave you wary and distrustful. You may experience feelings of extreme resentment for your partner because they neglected you while harboring emotions for someone else. You may even feel that you are not good enough, that you did something to deserve this outcome.
For those who engaged in the emotional affair, it is important to know how much these actions hurt those involved. You will be met with shock and disbelief. On your end, having your emotional affair discovered will be jarring. People may lose respect for you while you grieve the loss of your friend.
Regardless of the kind of infidelity, any form of betrayal hurts. The trauma caused by such a betrayal takes months or years to heal.
What Are The Signs Of An Emotional Affair?
Due to the secrecy involved with emotional affairs, diagnosing one may take time. Whether you are worried you may be enmeshed in an emotional affair or you are trying to spot infidelity in a partner or someone else, the best way to go about it is to consider the impact.
Ask yourself: Does the relationship with this individual support or erode what you and your partner share? Do they change how you interact with one another? How do you feel about each other?
Furthermore, if you are the one who may potentially be in an emotional affair, consider this: Do you crave interaction with the person in question? Would you rather be with them than with your partner?
Warning Signs Of Emotional Cheating
Aside from the above-mentioned questions, there are several signs of emotional cheating that you can keep an eye out for:
- Wanting to communicate with your friend more than your partner
- Believing that your friend understands you better than your partner
- Hiding the friendship from others, including any pictures or correspondences involved
- Daydreams about your friend
- Becoming defensive when questions about your friend are asked
- Lack of interest in your partner
- Decrease in intimacy with your partner
- Emotional distance
- Repeated conflict within your relationship over the friendship
Signs Your Partner May Be Emotionally Cheating
Now that you know what you may feel during emotional infidelity, let’s provide some signs that could mean someone else is having an emotional affair:
- Your partner withdraws from communicating and interacting with you
- They become hyper-critical of you
- After unresolved conflicts, your partner connects with this other person instead of you
- They have stopped expressing their needs and wants
- You no longer hear terms of endearment
- Whenever you are around, your partner hides what they were doing
- Your partner stays distant, saying that they have to spend extra time at work or on a project with a friend
- They develop new hobbies out of the blue
- The friend is mentioned a lot, even around other people, when before your partner spoke more about you
- When you bring up the friendship, your partner becomes hostile and defensive
- They say, “They’re just a friend”
- If your partner does not talk about their friend, you suspect that they are talking with someone else and hiding it from you
- Something is wrong—you can feel it in your gut
Keep in mind that one or two items on this list are not enough to decide whether someone is emotionally cheating. That said, if several things on this list are noticeable in your relationship, it may be a sign that something is going on. In the event that there is no emotional infidelity, these could be signs that point to issues within your relationship that need to be resolved sooner than later.
If the dynamic between you is hurting, it is time to consider what you can do to heal the rift. Often, the best course of action is to speak with a couples therapist.
What Causes Emotional Cheating?
If you find out that your partner is emotionally cheating on you, one of the first thoughts to go through your head is, “Why?” Why would they do this to you? Why are they with someone else?
Does this mean your relationship is done?
The truth is that there is no universal reason for infidelity. There is rarely malicious intent involved with emotional infidelity; it just happens. The friendship could have begun with good, honest intentions. But then there was an unconscious shift in boundaries that led to emotional infidelity.
Often, that unconscious shift happens when there are unmet needs. Emotional cheating is enabled when you reach out to someone who seemingly understands you better in the moment than your partner. Pains, fears, hopes, and dreams—the need to share insight into our inner world is part of what makes us human. When your partner is not available for these kinds of discussions, you may unknowingly share these topics with someone else.
But why would someone avoid their partner and talk to a friend about such important things? Well, perhaps there was a dismissal or a judgment that was too painful to hear.
The complexities of personal trauma make the reasons for emotional cheating just as intricate. If you don’t know how or why an emotional affair began, it may be best to speak with a therapist. If the emotional entanglement is connected to trauma, fears, and overwhelming emotions, there is a chance that it could happen again.
What To Do When You Find Yourself Emotionally Cheating
Regardless of what led you to having an emotional affair, know that the impact can be devastating. You may end up breaking the trust you have with your partner. They may feel immense betrayal.
It may be scary to move forward knowing what is on the line, but the best thing to do when you are having an emotional affair is to stop it immediately.
Here are some steps to help end emotional cheating:
Distance Yourself From Your Friend
This is undoubtedly one of the hardest things to call a first step, but it has to be done. You cannot move on from an emotional affair without freeing yourself of it. If this idea feels like breaking up, then it goes without saying that you have been too invested in one another. Put some distance between you and instead refocus on the relationship you have. Spend time with your partner. Become more attentive to their needs.
Be Truthful With Your Partner
Infidelity is a time bomb for relationships. The secrecy required to hide emotional cheating is one of the reasons this form of betrayal is so damaging. However, rather than hiding the truth of your emotional affair from your partner, be honest. Tell them what happened. You may think it would make matters worse, but it is a vital step in regaining trust. Coming clean lets your partner know that you understand what you did wrong, and that you are ready to atone for your mistakes.
Commit To Couples Therapy
Ending an emotional affair and then recovering is like being run through a treacherous gauntlet. You cannot possibly do it alone. Therapy is pivotal in regaining your footing and working through the pain and fear. Having a support system gives you and your partner a chance to talk about the issues within the relationship that led to emotional infidelity. You will learn, with the aid of a therapist, how to communicate your needs more effectively. Couples therapy can also help you and your partner rebuild your connection and trust.
How To Recover From Your Partner’s Emotional Infidelity
The road to recovery and rekindling trust when your partner has had an emotional affair is much more grueling when you are betrayed. There will be confrontation, coldness, anger, frustration, and despair when you realize that your partner became emotionally intimate with someone else. The pain you feel may be overwhelming at times. You may want to end the relationship because it hurts so badly to be betrayed.
It is recommended to take some time to calm down before assessing the next steps. Once you are ready to move forward, here are some steps to take:
Get The Answers You Need For Closure
Getting to the bottom of the emotional entanglement is necessary for a couple of reasons. First, how can you both move on when there are still secrets harbored between you? Healing begins the moment all that comes out into the open. If there is one positive benefit to infidelity, it is that it often acts as a catalyst. With all the secrets unearthed, you know what work has to be done to correct your relationship.
Addressing these issues will be key in saving your relationship, should you decide to stay together.
During this full disclosure of the emotional affair, it is best to have an unbiased presence in the room. A couples therapist can guide the conversation away from shame and blame, ensuring both sides are heard.
Avoid Blaming Yourself
Whatever the problems in your relationship, infidelity is never justified. Therefore, you should not blame yourself for the inexcusable thing that your partner did. You may feel tempted to say that you were not good enough for your partner, or that your actions and behaviors drove them to it, but that is not correct. Throw those thoughts in the trash can.
Your partner must be held accountable for their decisions. Their infidelity is their responsibility, no matter the issues that drove them to it.
In order to heal, you must be compassionate with yourself.
Take Your Time
Throughout the journey of healing from emotional infidelity, you may wonder why it is
so hard to “forgive and forget” when the phrase is so easy to say. Well, those words do not account for the trauma. Even if you go to therapy, you will have negative emotions inside your heart that only you can work through.
The path to healing is less of a balmy boardwalk by the beach and more of a steep, slippery slope up a Himalayan mountain. There will be some days where you feel absolutely in love with your partner. Then something will trigger sadness and suspicions, and you will feel sad once again.
It’s okay to feel this way. Just remember that you will recover from this. It may take months or years; there is no rush. If you love one another and continue working through the pain, then forgiveness will come.
Grow Stronger, Together After Emotional Cheating
Emotional cheating, also known as emotional infidelity, is a painful experience, one that could end a relationship or marriage quite easily. When you become emotionally invested in another person, it could drive a wedge between you and your partner. However, emotional cheating does not have to be the end. It can be the beginning of a stronger, healthier relationship. By understanding emotional cheating, you can notice it before it begins or even end such a relationship before it becomes problematic.
Attending therapy with the counselors at Couples Academy can help you overcome such challenges. Whether you are trying to cope with the aftermath of an emotional affair or want to patch up issues that could lead to infidelity, speaking with a therapist is beneficial. Our authentic and caring couples counselors are here to help you grow, learn about one another, and move forward. A brighter, happier chapter awaits; let’s get you on the right path. Get in touch with Couples Academy today to learn more about our therapy services.