What Is Emotional Cheating?

Here’s what you need to know about emotional infidelity.

by Bobby Box

Have you ever wondered what an emotional affair is? When you hear of someone cheating, it’s usually implied in the traditional sense, meaning somebody had sex with a person outside of their monogamous relationship or marriage. This is otherwise known as a physical affair. You rarely hear of a relationship ending due to an emotional affair, yet this form of deception deals just as much damage as the former.

According to Urban Dictionary, an emotional affair is “just like any other affair, but with no boning. Where you have mutual feelings for someone NOT your significant other but you never hook up.” So there you go.

A study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior surveyed 63,894 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual participants and asked if they would be more hurt by a physical — or sexual — affair (which study authors described as: “You found out that your partner is having a sexual relationship with someone else.”) and an emotional affair (described as: “You found out that your partner has fallen in love with someone else, but is not having a sexual relationship with this person.”) For heterosexual participants, men were found to be more likely than women to be hurt over sexual infidelity than emotional (54% to 35%), and women were just the opposite.

I spoke with online dating expert and founder of Cyber-Dating Expert Julie Spira to address everything there is to know about emotional infidelity.

The Red Flags Of An Emotional Affair

“Some of the key signs that someone might be having an emotional affair usually start with their mobile phone,” Spira says. “If your partner acts like their phone is their digital teddy bear, it’s a red flag.” According to Spira, smartphone-related flags of emotional infidelity include: taking their phone into the bathroom, turning the ringer off when they are around you, and walking outside to take a call. If he or she decides to keep their Tinder profile for validation of getting other matches, is yet another, more obvious red flag.

Other non-phone-related flags include: when your partner begins talking about somebody at work a lot, brings them up in conversation more than usual, and confides in them about details of your relationship, the exchange of which is brought up to you in conversation. Perhaps most prevalent, though, is when your partner is online for hours (for instance, after you sleep), instant messaging on Facebook or tapping away on their phones. When that happens, “it’s time to ask why.”

These Are The Effects Of An Emotional Affair On A Relationship

An emotional affair is very damaging to a relationship, Spira admits. “Once the trust is violated — which happens even if there’s no sex involved — it’s hard to get it back.” Trust is built, and when it's destroyed, it must be rebuilt (or scrapped altogether). Spira continues to say that, with emotional cheating, your partner may confide in someone about details of your relationship along with the problems you might be having without even discussing them with you. This is a definite sign there’s a communication barrier between you two. One that must be fixed. Or abandoned, if you choose to split.

“With an emotional affair, a bond is created with another person, thereby creating a potential love triangle the longer it continues. A person’s self esteem can be crushed when your partner is having an emotional affair. It’s so destructive, that you’re better off alone,” Spira says.

Why Are Emotional Affairs More Popular Now Than Ever?

“[Emotional affairs] used to be common with people at work, because that’s where they spend the most of their time.” But with over 1.3 billion smartphones, over 1 billion people on Facebook, and 50 million people on Tinder alone, it’s never been easier to flirt or communicate with someone online or from your mobile phone. So now it’s not only the co-workers who may be culprits, it’s everyone. “While it might be innocent communications at first, it can easily turn into an emotional affair when you start sending more intimate messages like ‘good morning’ and ‘goodnight’ texts to someone.”

How To Remedy An Emotional Affair

Sometimes, an emotional affair will irrefutably cause a split. But there is way to fix the cracks you’ve caused in the foundation if you want to. And, as with most things concerning relationship troubles, the best thing you can do is to have a chat (not a screaming match). “Ask if it’s a good time to talk to schedule your conversation,” Spira says. “Let them know you’ve noticed something different about the way they’re hiding their phone” or that you know they’ve been texting someone else — if you’ve actually seen the texts while with your partner.

Spira then recommends you get blunt with your partner and let them know that having a dating profile or texting someone who doesn’t know they are in a relationship is emotional cheating. “Don’t beat around the bush here. Then, shut up and listen,” she says. Ask your partner to put the breaks on the digital communication and get back to you. By doing this, you dig at what might be missing in the relationship and attempt to work together to fix it.

Want more of Bustle’s Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our new podcast, I Want It That Way, which delves into the difficult and downright dirty parts of a relationship, and find more on our Soundcloud page.

Images: Andrew Zaeh/Bustle; Giphy