In order to have a healthy relationship, it's important to bear in mind that you can't offer your partner everything they need to feel well-rounded and fulfilled. And vice versa. Both of you should have a support group you can reach out to, when it comes to weathering life's ups and downs. But if your partner is constantly reaching out to someone else, before they reach out to you, or if they're
getting their emotional needs fulfilled elsewhere, that's not OK.
Not only can that create a rift between you, and ultimately damage your relationship, but it can also be a
sign of emotional cheating. "Emotional cheating isn’t as easy to define as physical infidelity because the boundaries between friendship and emotional infidelity can be fuzzy," Jonathan Bennett, relationship and dating expert at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "However, I would define emotional cheating as forming a strong and intimate emotional bond with someone other than your partner. It also usually involves hiding that connection from your partner."
Emotional cheating goes beyond healthy friendship and everyday connection, and crosses over into affair territory, which is why you'll need to talk about it. As Bennett says, "If you think your partner is emotionally cheating, it’s important to communicate your feelings and find out why."
From there, you can discuss
ways to improve your communication — and your connection — so that neither of you feel the need to turn to others in an unhealthy way. With that in mind, here are a few things your partner might say if they're emotionally cheating, according to experts.
"My Friend Is Totally On My Side"
If your partner hints at the fact another person — such as a friend or coworker — may have taken their side regarding one of your relationship issues, it's a sign they're talking about you behind your back. And that's not OK.
"One common form of emotional cheating involves opening up to someone else about your relationship problems," Amica Graber, a relationship expert for the background checking site
TruthFinder, tells Bustle. "If your partner slips that someone else has been listening to their problems with your relationship, it's a huge sign of emotional cheating."
While it's fine if they want to reach out to friends for emotional support, your partner should first and foremost be turning to
you. You're their partner, after all, and venting about problems to folks who aren't involved isn't only unhelpful, but it can quickly turn into emotionally cheating.
"You Wouldn't Understand..."
"If your partner starts icing you out or
saying that you wouldn't understand, they might be confiding in someone else," Graber says. Shutting you out is a form of emotional cheating, but it can easily go to an even deeper level.
"You might often hear a thought cut off and punctuated with 'you just don't understand' because your partner has made peace with the fact that you are less emotionally compatible than the person they [may be] cheating with,"
Margaux Cassuto, relationship expert and matchmaker, tells Bustle.
That's not only unfair to you, but it's also incredibly damaging to your relationship. If you expect to move forward as a couple, consider talking about boundaries or even
seeing a couples therapist to find better ways of communicating. That way, no one will feel the need to turn to others for this level of support — or have an emotional affair.
"They're So Much Better At Helping Me"
relationships go through ups and downs. But instead of sticking by your side and weathering these issues with you, you may find that your partner turns to someone else as a way of getting their emotional needs met. And, in the process, they may even begin to value that person's opinion more than yours — which is obviously a big problem.
"If your partner starts comparing you unfavorably to someone else, it's [a red flag]," Graber says. "If your partner suddenly starts talking about a new coworker, and how they're so much better than you at X, Y, and Z, there's a major underlying problem in your relationship."
It may be that you aren't communicating effectively as a couple, or that your partner doesn't trust you — for whatever reason. While it's no one's fault, per se, it is a sign that there's definitely
room for improvement in your relationship, when it comes to offering support.
"It's Just Social Media..."
While it's fine to
chat with exes or like other people's photos, if it's done in secret, or it continues even after you've said it makes you uncomfortable, that's when it crosses a line. As Graber says, "If they dismiss you and your concerns by telling you it's 'just' social media, be cautious."
Many times, emotional cheating can begin on social media, where it's super easy to get attention from others and feel fulfilled, without actually stepping over any physical boundaries. And yet, depending on how you define infidelity, this can end up being just as
painful and damaging as an actual affair.
"I Don't Want To Talk About It"
If your partner is getting their emotional needs fulfilled elsewhere, you might notice that they have less and less to say to you at the end of the day. Or that you aren't the first person they turn to whenever they're feeling upset.
"You used to have conversations about [their] boss, about [their] mother's problems, about the relationship between the two of you — but now that seems to have dried up, and your partner apparently isn't missing it," relationship counselor
Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, tells Bustle. "This is a good indication they're getting their emotional needs met somewhere else."
"I Can't Be Myself Around You"
If your partner blames you for their own inability to relax and be themselves around you, take note. "It’s possible that your partner is finding emotional fulfillment with someone else — who [they think] does a better job of 'getting' your partner," Bennett says.
Whether that's true or not is a moot point. The real issue is that they're allowing themselves to
be open with someone who isn't you, and that's further severing your chances of having a connection. This is something you can definitely improve on as a couple — but only if your partner is willing to do so.
"I Wish You Could Be More Like Them"
It's fine if your partner has a close friend they enjoy confiding in, as long as they
also confide in you. What's not OK? If they start comparing you to this other person, or saying they wish you'd be more like them.
"If that happens, you have to ask why your partner wants you to be like another person," Bennett says. It can be considered emotional cheating if they're secretly sizing the two of you up and comparing you. It just goes to show they don't view this other person as simply a friend, but a possible future partner.
Everyone's entitled to a bad day, where they may not feel like talking about relationships, or other weighty topics. Take note, however, if it seems like your partner isn't willing to chat about your relationship at all.
"If they no longer engage, if they no longer jump into the discussion, or if they simply 'don’t care' then the relationship is at risk as they may be looking elsewhere," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of
The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "Disengagement is a relationship red flag. It may be relationship burnout — but it may also be giving of themselves to someone else."
If you notice this tendency, try to talk about it ASAP. As Dr. Klapow says, "When there is disengagement ask directly how can you help get them get re-engaged. Express the importance to you and the relationship." And go from there.
"You Should Stop Acting Like That"
It's fine to point out
areas where you can both improve, as long as it's done in a kind and loving way. It may be a bad sign, however, if your partner is constantly asking you to change yourself, or to adjust how you handle yourself in certain situations.
"If your partner is asking you to change and there seems to be an urgency, this is a red flag that they are seeing in someone else what they don’t see in you," Dr. Klapow says. "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."
It's not your responsibility to morph into another person in order to save your relationship, so don't for a second think that's the answer. You can, however, talk about
what might be missing from your relationship, and find ways to feel more connected. Or, if you feel that your partner is is straying for reasons beyond your control, it may be healthiest to protect yourself from that toxicity, and simply go your separate ways.