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: Each couple has their own unique set of relationship boundaries, so emotional cheating is very rarely a black-and-white issue. In an 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," dating and relationship coach Jonathan Bennett 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."
The concept of emotional cheating is somewhat hard to define as a monolith simply because there are many different versions of it that will vary from person to person. People have different lines they consider crossed for something to veer into an emotional affair. While one person might consider their partner sharing everything with someone else emotional cheating, another might draw the line only if their partner lies about that closeness with another person. Nonetheless, what these instances have in common is that they can be hurtful, as both involve the trust and boundaries of a relationship being violated.
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.
How To Avoid Emotional Cheating In Your Relationship
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. "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."
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.
Jonathan Bennett, dating and relationship roach and owner of The Popular Man