What Is Emotional Cheating? 12 People Reveal Where They Draw The Line In Their Relationship

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When you think about being cheated on, you probably imagine your partner having sex or hooking up with someone else — but cheating isn't always physical: there's also the scary possibility that your partner will emotionally cheat, which can sometimes hurt even worse. But what is considered emotional cheating? Unfortunately, it's pretty hard to define, because it's different in every relationship: every couple has their own unique set of relationship boundaries, so emotional cheating is very rarely a black-and-white issue. In a recent AskReddit thread, users shared what they view as emotional cheating, and it's clear that not everyone agrees on what behaviors constitute "emotional cheating" in a relationship.

"Emotional cheating isn’t as easy to define as physical cheating because the boundaries between friendship and emotional infidelity aren’t always clear," Jonathan Bennett, Dating/Relationship Coach and Owner of The Popular Man, tells Bustle. "However, I would define emotional cheating as forming a strong and intimate emotional bond with someone other than your partner. In general, if you are deeply connecting with another person emotionally, even for friendship, while simultaneously disconnecting with your partner, you’re crossing into emotional infidelity."

Ultimately, emotional cheating is whatever you define it as, and if your partner's connection with someone else makes you feel uneasy or upset, it's important to have a conversation to re-establish your boundaries. If you're curious how other people see emotional infidelity, here are 12 examples of what emotional cheating can look like — and hopefully none of these ring true in your own relationship.

1Lying About How Close You Are To Someone Else

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If you feel the need to hide the depth of your connection with someone else from your actual partner, that's a pretty clear sign that something untoward is going on between the two of you.

2Complaining About Your Partner To Someone Else

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It's OK (and actually healthy for you) to vent about your relationship troubles to friends and family — but there's a huge difference between texting your gal pals about a fight you had with your partner, and complaining to a potential love interest about being unhappy in your current relationship.

3Sharing Big News With Someone Else Before Your Partner

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It's super upsetting when your partner shares big, exciting news with another person before they share it with you — especially when it comes to something as intimate as a pregnancy announcement.

4Sending Inappropriate Messages

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If you know your partner would be hurt by the contents of your messages to someone else, that's probably an indicator that some emotional cheating is going on.

5Making Your Partner A Placeholder

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It's totally normal to have innocent crushes while in a relationship, but if you start to use your partner as a placeholder for someone else that you think you'd rather be with, that's not a good sign.

6Deleting Texts Or Calls

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If you're someone who likes to regularly delete all your texts, that's one thing. But that seemingly innocent habit can become problematic if you're selectively deleting texts — aka there's one person whose conversations you want to hide.

7Putting Someone Else Before Your Partner

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In a healthy relationship, both partners make sure to always put each other first... so if you start to subconsciously put someone else first, that's a clear indicator of emotional cheating.

8Lying About Someone Who's "Just A Friend"

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PSA: a friendship isn't "innocent" if you feel tempted to lie about things like how often you talk or hang out.

9Showing Signs Of "Puppy Love" Toward Someone Else

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There's nothing wrong with giving a friend a genuine compliment every now and then when it's warranted, but there is something wrong with constantly showering someone who isn't your partner with attention and compliments.

10Sharing Big Worries/Concerns With Someone Else

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The best part of a relationship is knowing you have someone you can share your worries with, and if you're stepping outside the relationship for huge amounts of emotional support, that's super hurtful to your partner.

11Messaging Other People For Attention

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If you're reaching out to someone because you like the attention they give you, and not because you actually want to talk to them, that's something that will likely upset your partner.

12Having A "Work Wife/Husband"

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There's nothing wrong with having a coworker that you're close friends with, but not everyone is comfortable with the whole "work wife/husband" thing.

How Do You Avoid Emotional Cheating?

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There's no denying that cheating, in all its forms, is an awful thing to go through — but emotional cheating in particular can be devastating to a relationship, because you're destroying the trust and intimacy you shared with your partner even beyond the bedroom.

"Although physical cheating is traditionally regarded as damaging to relationships, emotional infidelity can be just as devastating," Bennett says. "In fact, one study showed while straight men viewed physical infidelity worse, women and gay men actually regarded an emotional affair as more distressing. Drawing close to another person while pushing away your partner, even if emotionally, is a breach of trust and breaking a bond of intimacy."

Whether it's intentional or not, emotional cheating can be super painful — so how can you avoid it in your own relationship?

"The best way to avoid emotional cheating is to be honest with yourself about your emotional relationship with the other person," Bennett says. "Emotional cheating is very easy to justify because it’s so difficult to define with precision. Generally, I recommend asking two questions if you feel you are emotionally cheating: First, how would I feel if my partner acted this way with another person? Second, how would I feel if my partner read a transcript or heard a recording of the conversations? These questions will help you look at the issue more objectively. If you know you would feel jealous towards your partner doing the same thing and worried or ashamed if your partner knew what you were saying, then you’ve crossed the line into emotional cheating."

So if you haven't yet, now is a great time to talk to your partner and define what emotional cheating means to each of you, and set specific boundaries about what you are and are not comfortable with. If you truly love and respect each other, you'll both stick to those boundaries with no problem.