8 Signs Of Emotionally Cheating Vs. Mentally Checking Out Of A Relationship

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When a relationship is headed towards the end, or towards a rough patch, it can be easy to tell that something is off but difficult to pinpoint exactly what. The signs of emotional cheating, for example, are often quite hard to distinguish from a partner simply checking out mentally. Luckily, relationship experts have found some key ways to tell the difference.

"In a traditional sense ... mentally checking out means no longer giving of yourself to your partner," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist and Host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "And emotionally cheating means giving of yourself to someone else." Neither are things that you want in a relationship, but figuring out which situation is happening to you and your partner can help you figure out what to do next.

If you suspect your partner of either checking out or emotionally cheating, it's important to tread lightly. "It can be very difficult to tell if cheating has already happened or if your partner is growing out of the relationship," Dr. Klapow says. "You need to be careful not to assume that they are cheating. They may simply be trying to save the relationship as they feel their emotions and the connection slipping away." Look at how they act, not just how you feel. "Actions tell the difference," David Bennett, certified counselor and relationship expert with Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. And there are a handful of actions that really signify the difference.

Here are eight ways to distinguish emotional cheating from a partner who is mentally checking out of a relationship.

1. They're Hanging Out With Friends Vs. Single & Available People

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Who someone hangs out with during a relationship rough patch can be a major indicator of whether they're emotionally cheating or just checking out. If you're particularly worried about the former, though, it's important to see whether they're starting to hang out with a lot of eligible, single people.

"If someone is 'checking out,' they may make new friends with people you don't know," Bennett says. "However, if you start seeing your partner engage and connect a lot with individuals you know they are attracted to and would date, I would suspect emotional cheating (or even physical). Many times, the evidence is there on social media with constant likes, engagement, and even that person constantly showing up in texts and messages." If you're concerned this is the case, it's important to start a conversation about your relationship. Start by asking your partner how they're feeling, and try not to make accusations.

2. They're Playing Games On Their Phone Vs. Texting People

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It's never OK to spy on your partner's phone, but it's valid to notice what your partner is up to. Phone behavior can become a big indicator of whether a dissatisfied partner is checking out mentally or emotionally cheating.

"A lot of people 'check out' by playing video games or escaping into work and hobbies," Bennett says. "They may be on their phones for these reasons. However, if you notice your partner is constantly on their phones texting, sending photos, etc, and may even be somewhat secretive about it, I would start to be concerned there is someone really significant on the other end." If you're worried about this, confront your partner carefully, stick to the facts, and remember that there's always a possibility things might change.

3. They Emotionally Engage With Others Vs. With You

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Whether your partner is emotionally engaging with you, or focusing their energy on other people, can be a big sign of whether they're emotionally cheating or just checking out.

"If your partner brings up certain people they know and engage [with], and their eyes light up, I would be concerned about emotional cheating," Bennett says. "If your partner clearly enjoys talking to and engaging other people over you, then that could be a sign of emotional cheating. They may even get visibly upset if they have to hang out with you over that other person." If, on the other hand, they still engage with you primarily, just with a changed mood, they may simply be checking out mentally.

4. They Vent To Their Friends Vs. Venting To Strangers

If your partner starts venting to people outside their typical support group, that may be a sign of emotional cheating.

"It's one thing if you know your partner vents about you to a close friend of theirs; that's normal," Bennett says. "It's another thing if you see them venting about you to someone you barely know. I would assume at this point that this new person isn't really a 'stranger,' but someone they know a lot better than you think, because they may be emotionally cheating.” Someone who is emotionally checking out may complain to their friends more than normal, but complaining to new people isn't as subtle as that. If you notice your partner picking up this habit, it may be worth bringing up to them.

5. They Get Defensive About Their Lifestyle Vs. Always Talking About Their Single Friends

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If you partner has begun emotionally cheating, they might get caught up in the world inside their head, desperate to rationalize what's going on. "[Be wary if] your partner is on the defensive and too quick to make excuses for their behavior," certified relationship coach Rosalind Sedacca tells Bustle. On the other hand, if they're openly looking outwards, they might be checking out.

"If they're making comments about how relaxed and fun being single is, chances are they're just checking out, versus looking for the next 'best' thing," Bethany Ricciardi, Sex and Relationship Expert with TooTimid tells Bustle. It may seem counterintuitive, but someone who is emotionally cheating may not necessarily be fed up with relationship itself, while the checked-out person could be. If your partner is commenting on the single life, try encouraging them to enjoy some parts of the "single life" as is. "Go to parties and mingle with different groups, find each other at the end of the night and enjoy a ... cab ride home!" Ricciardi says. It's important to give your partner space and free time when they need it.

6. They Let Their Appearance Go Vs. Starting To Dress Better

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While it's important not to obsess over your partner's looks, a change in appearance can sometimes indicate a change in the relationship.

"They're probably trying to find someone new if their appearance matters a lot to them all of a sudden," Ricciardi says. "They might stop posting [about your relationship] on social media and are only showing off the personal, independent parts of their life. If they're interested in showing off the best parts, they might also start to care about their looks a lot more." Obviously, your partner dressing better isn't a sure-fire sign of cheating, but within the context of checking out, it may be a red flag. On the other hand, someone letting their dressing and grooming routines go might be a sign of growing emotional distance. Always ask your partner what they need, and be willing to talk through any budding issues.

7. They Engage With You In Conflict Vs. They Totally Stop Engaging

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Whether or not your partner engages with you during fights can be a major indicator of how things are going in your relationship.

"If your partner attempts to engage on tough topics, tries to talk about how to improve the relationship but gets frustrated quickly, easily and has less patience, then they may be growing out of the relationship," Dr. Klapow says. "However ... if they no longer jump into the discussion, if they simply 'don’t care' then the relationship is at risk as they may be looking elsewhere." In all aspects, disengagement is a red flag. Ask your partner what you can do to build back a healthy bond. And always remember to express how important they are to you.

8. They Ask You To Change Vs. They Make A Change

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It's important to keep an eye on how your partner changes when things are tough in a relationship. "[Be careful] if your partner is asking you to change and there seems to be an urgency," Dr. Klapow says, "... if your partner is telling you about personal changes they are making in their lives and encouraging you, begging you to come along and embrace them — they may be growing out of the current relationship." If it's a reasonable change, that's good for you and for the relationship, it may be worth making. If it's simply something arbitrary, it's worth examining further.

It's also sometimes risky if they're looking to explore these changes outside of the relationship. "If your partner is making these personal changes and not sharing them with you (i.e. new found spirituality, new approaches to managing stress, new interests and hobbies) but rather engaging in them with others, or on their own, then they may be thinking [of emotional cheating]," Dr. Klapow says. "Pay attention to a partner who makes life changes; be interested in them. Ask questions, because your engagement in their change could just save your relationship." As always, open communication is the best policy.

None of these signs alone can pinpoint emotional cheating or a partner with one foot out the door. Noticing a combination of factors, plus opening up in conversation with your partner, will provide you with more clarity. "When you're feeling anxiety about any of these behaviors, sit down and talk," Sedacca says. "Trust your inner radar if you're picking up signs of cheating or mentally checking out. Suggest getting help from a therapist or relationship coach. Don't stay in the same pattern and ignore your feelings.” You deserve a healthy, loving relationship, and your partner deserves your honesty.