While folks cheat and have affairs for a multitude of (sometimes very unpredictable) reasons, there are a few toxic habits that can lead to emotional cheating that you might be able to spot in advance. And since an emotional affair can be just as painful as a physical one, catching it early can mean saving your relationship.
To start off, you can decide with your partner what "emotional cheating" means to you. But in general it's defined as follows: "Emotional cheating, in its broadest form, is essentially giving emotions that were once reserved only for your significant other to someone else," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "It's taking things like love, trust, vulnerability, connection, and affection and removing them or diminishing them in your current relationship, and giving them to another person."
And it's easy to see why that could be damaging to a relationship. But the good news is, the sooner you can spot weaknesses in your relationship, the sooner you can fix them — and hopefully even prevent something like this from happening. Here are a few toxic habits therapists say you and your partner should try to avoid, especially since they often lead to emotional cheating.
Rejecting Or Invalidating Each Other
"When someone feels rejected and invalidated by their partner, they will be more likely to seek support and encouragement from someone else," Ziskind says. That's why, if it feels like your partner is letting you down in this area, you need to let them know. And you should encourage them to do the same.
By communicating with each other about your needs, and making an effort to be more present, you can help keep this toxic habit from turning into an emotional affair.
Relying On Someone Who's Not Your Partner For Emotional Support
If you find yourself spilling your thoughts and worries to someone who isn't your partner, emotional cheating often won't be far behind.
"This is often conversations that revolve around very personal subjects, such as [your] past or current hurts, reasons [you] are disappointed in [your] current relationship, unmet needs [you] have, etc.," Maria C. Inoa, LCSW, owner of Full Potential Counseling, tells Bustle.
It's 100 percent OK to open up and have deep chats with friends. But having this type of conversation with someone — and never turning to your partner and having the same convo with them — is a recipe for disaster.
Not Establishing Boundaries Early On
In order to prevent emotional cheating, both you and your partner should agree to a few boundaries, so that you can be on the same page in terms of your relationship "rules."
For example, you might not want to turn to others for emotional support before turning to your partner. And you definitely don't want to talk about your relationship problems to someone else — especially if that person is a potential romantic interest.
"These two habits can lead to emotional cheating because it creates a vulnerability between the person and whoever [you] are telling," Inoa says. "The other person often becomes a place of emotional support instead of [your] significant other." And that's definitely going to create problems in your relationship.
Avoiding Conflict At All Costs
"People cheat often out of fear of facing conflict," Dr. Klapow says. "Emotional cheating allows you to escape. Emotional cheating gives you respite, support, and validation." And that's understandable, to a degree.
But if you can turn to each other for that validation — even if it means having a tough or unpleasant conversation in the process — emotional cheating will be far less likely to happen.
Flirting With Others
If you're in the habit of flirting with others — behind your partner's back, that is — it can easily get out of hand. "This can lead to emotional cheating because if you’re not getting your emotional needs met with your significant other, then you may turn to the people you’re flirting with to meet your emotional needs," licensed marriage and family therapist, Heidi McBain, MA, tells Bustle.
If you're not feeling fulfilled, let your partner know. You can work together to get your initial spark back, and thus not feel the need to reach out to others in unhealthy and damaging ways.
Keeping Your Problems To Yourself
It can be tough to open up about things that are bothering you, but especially when it comes to someone who means a lot to you — such as your partner. And yet, if anyone needs to know about your worries and anxieties, it's them.
So don't keep these issues to yourself. As Dr. Klapow says, "People cheat out of hopelessness." And out of a need for connection. If you choose someone who isn't your partner to help you through, it can create an irreparable rift.
By reaching out to your partner and clueing them into what's going wrong — or what doesn't feel right — you can have each other's backs. And from there, you can work together to create a healthier relationship — no cheating or extramarital affairs necessary.