When it comes to cheating, you and your partner may define it one way whereas another couple may define it another way. Of course, it’s best to determine — in advance — what constitutes cheating. There’s physical cheating, but then there’s emotional cheating. Speaking of which, oftentimes, there are signs of emotional cheating to look for, especially ones you may miss.
Regarding any type of cheating, it’s important to have relationship boundaries in place. For instance, can your partner kiss someone else? Can they regularly email someone they used to date or an attractive coworker you’ve never met?
“In its broadest form, emotional cheating is essentially giving emotions — that were once reserved only for your significant other — to someone else,” Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. “It may not be about sex or sexual connection, and it doesn’t always have to do with another love interest.”
He says that emotional cheating is 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 outside the relationship. For instance, your partner may have developed a close, intimate relationship with a new friend, Dr. Klapow says. “The relationship is platonic ... but the connection is transferred to the new friendship,” he says.
That said, relationship experts say that there are, indeed, predictors of emotional cheating to watch out for, such as the below.
You Feel Disconnected From Your Partner
Usually, your instincts can tell you if something is awry in your relationship, and feeling disconnected is another sign that things aren’t the same. “Pay attention to if you’re feeling disconnected or ‘far apart’ from each other, even when sitting together or cuddling,” Waters says. “You may even be at the point of trying to confront your partner about it, saying things like, ‘Is everything OK with us?’ or ‘Did I do something wrong?’” He says that, usually, both people can feel the discomfort. “If your partner doesn’t acknowledge whatever you’re feeling, it is possible that they’re covering something up or getting their emotional needs met elsewhere,” Waters says.
Dr. Klapow agrees, saying that if your partner no longer engages with you, it’s an issue. “If they no longer engage or jump into a discussion about the relationship — or they simply ‘don’t care’ — then the relationship is at risk, as they may be looking elsewhere,” he says. “Disengagement is a relationship red flag. Although it may just be relationship burnout, it may also be that they’re giving themselves to someone else.”
Your Partner Is Unnecessarily Defensive
If your partner is more defensive than usual, and about things that don’t usually warrant being defensive, it may be another indicator that they’re emotionally cheating. “A guilty conscience is quick to project itself onto others,” Waters says. “Has your partner recently started questioning your motives or acting jealous in situations that don’t add up? Or maybe they’ve started turning your innocent questions or prompts around defensively all of a sudden.” He says an example of this could be you asking them what took so long at the grocery store and them getting defensive and saying, “Are you effing kidding me? Am I not allowed to have any alone time?!”
They Guard Their Phone And Computer From You
Christi Garner, LMFT, Psychotherapist Online, says to pay attention to how your significant other acts regarding technology — their phone, computer, etc.
“If you partner is always on their phone and hides it from you, they might be emotionally cheating,” she tells Bustle. “When one person in the relationship is spending a lot of their time talking with someone else, even if it is just by direct message and not in person, that partner might be emotionally building a bond with them, which takes time away from their relationship with you.” She says while there are different positive outcomes from having friends outside of a relationship, if your partner is hiding this friendship from you, they might be emotionally cheating. “If we have friends outside our partner, it is important our partner knows and is included in those friendships,” she says.
Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka “Dr. Romance”) psychotherapist, and author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today, agrees. “If they don’t want you to see their phone or computer, they’re probably hiding something,” she tells Bustle. “Plus, determine if your partner is spending a lot more time online — and it’s not for work or another reason.”
Your Partner Is “Too Busy” Lately
Everyone gets busy, but if your partner is “busier” than usual lately — and there’s no end in sight — it may be due to another person. “If your partner is putting so much energy into someone else that it drains their ability to spend time with you or take your needs into account, they could be emotionally cheating,” Garner says. “It is important in a relationship to work on being vulnerable and open with your partner, meaning, there needs to be time and energy to listen to each other, to do special things for each other, and bond over things that bring you together.” She says that if your partner seems “too busy” — and/or too engaged with someone else or not interested in doing those things with you anymore — they might be emotionally cheating.
Your Partner Compares You To Another Person
It is *not* fun to be compared to another person, especially not to one your partner may be crushing on. “This means they might be having an emotional affair,” Garner says. “When two people in a relationship start to compare their partners to others, who even might just be their friends, they are taking the friend relationship and elevating it to the same stance as an intimate partner. This could be a sign your partner is emotionally cheating and building a bond with another person that takes away from the bond you share.”
Your Partner Wants You To Change, And With Urgency
Dr. Klapow feels that if your partner is asking you to change and there seems to be a sense of urgency, it’s a red flag — and that they are seeing in someone else what they don’t see in you. “A partner who is falling for someone else may see this happening and ask you to do things like the person they are falling for.” Dr. Klapow says to listen to their requests and ask yourself: “Is this good for the relationship?” and “Is it good for me?”
Your Partner Is Making Changes — But Not Telling You About Them
Everyone grows and changes when in a relationship, but if your partner is changing on the DL, something may be up. “This may be newfound spirituality, new approaches to managing stress, or new interests and hobbies,” Dr. Klapow says. “But rather than engaging in them with others, or on their own, they may be thinking about sharing them with someone else. Pay attention to a partner who makes life changes.”
Your Partner Lessens Or Avoids One-On-One Time With You
If you feel that you and your partner don’t spend as much quality time together anymore, it’s another sign that they may have an emotional attachment to somebody else. “When there is a lack of emotional connection from a partner, they will seek to spend less time with their significant other,” Thomas Edwards, founder of The Professional Wingman, tells Bustle. “Instead, spending time with other people will serve as a distraction to prevent a one-on-one connection with you from happening.” He says that this makes it look like you’re spending quality time together, but you’re not.
Recognize The Signs Of Emotional Cheating Sooner, Not Later
“As someone who has experience with cheating both in my professional work and being on the sh*t end of that emotional stick in a past romantic relationship, I recognized a lot of signs that I didn’t realize were red flags until it was too late,” Joshua Waters, LMFT, tells Bustle. “I mean, hindsight is 20/20 right? But long story short, don’t wait until six months down the line to confront your partner when you’ve (metaphorically) seen the Snapchat streak with the neighbor getting longer, and longer.”
Waters adds that sometimes you make the distance worse by pretending it’s not there, or by allowing the weird little things that you notice just slip by without questioning them. “It’s one thing to be constantly on guard, but another to allow your relationship to slip out of your hands,” he says. So, it's important to be honest with yourself if you feel something is off.
As you can see, there are several indicators of emotional cheating. Of course, talk to your partner about your concerns is first and foremost, and then the two of you need to figure out what to do from there, such as seeing a couples therapist.