Whether first-hand or not, we all have an idea of how hurtful, undermining, and shattering infidelity may be. It has been defined in many ways and we usually associate it with sexual or physical activity outside the committed romantic relationship. But is this always the case, or is cheating – whether physical or not – basically about ruining the trust and putting up walls in a relationship? No matter how happy in our committed relationships we are, the truth is we all have moments of insecurity and doubts. And it certainly is a relief to know you’re not alone.

Read on to find out how you can know you’re emotionally cheated on and what you can do to overcome this traumatic personal experience.


What is Emotional Cheating?

Emotional Cheating

When thinking about being cheated on, we tend to imagine our partner having a romantic affair and sexual intercourse with somebody else. Cheating, however, doesn’t always involve physical and erotic connection – infidelity may be emotional, which doesn’t mean that it’s easier to overcome. Just on the contrary. But what is emotional cheating? 

Unfortunately, it’s really tricky and difficult to define simply because we all have different boundaries in our relationships. We also have our individual ideas of the divide between friendship and intimacy. In their attempts to study perceptions of infidelity, social scientists distinguish between emotional and sexual. While sexual infidelity is associated with clearer physical manifestations, emotional cheating is seen as maintaining a strong and intimate emotional connection with someone outside the committed relationship.

You may think that such a deep bond certainly has a romantic or erotic element, and perhaps you will be right in many cases. In many instances, however, the feeling of being emotionally betrayed is caused by the partner’s deep closeness with friends or relatives completely deprived of erotic traits. Just imagine your partner discussing his promotion or the chances of being laid off with his school friend, and not you. How would you put up with that? Even with no romantic component present, sharing excessively and engaging in emotional intimacy outside the committed relationship reportedly makes couples feel excluded and cheated on.

Not only is emotional cheating hard to define, but it’s also difficult to detect, voice, and defy. The reason is obvious – such type of infidelity looks innocent and usually doesn’t involve potential feelings of guilt and regrets which are often associated with sexual infidelity. Think of a strong bond with a tutor or therapist. Originally based on respect, admiration, and trust, it may turn into a continuous and intense email or message exchange covering a great range of topics and getting more and more personal. Eventually, this connection may completely take over the communication with the partner on a great variety of subjects. How can you bring up the matter without being accused of being over-suspicious, over-sensitive, and even paranoid? “This is just a close friend,” or “You aren’t interested in poetry,” or “You’ve been so busy these days, and I didn’t want to bother you” – these are just some of the possible answers you’ll most probably get. But deep inside, you know that something is not right, and the boundary of friendship has been crossed. What’s next then? You’re likely to ask yourself “Why?”


Why do people emotionally cheat?

This type of infidelity is increasingly common. You may be surprised that according to a research of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), having some sort of emotional affair has been confessed by about 35% of the female and 45% of the male participants in the survey, which exceeds the percentage of those confessing sexual infidelity by around 20%. Another curious fact is that 88% of women indicated greater concern about the emotional than sexual infidelity of their partner. So, why do so many couples face the problem of emotional cheating?

Research points out several reasons why people tend to cheat emotionally on their partners.



Emotional infidelity can be motivated by unmet emotional needs. So, imagine you feel that your partner is consistently indifferent to your interests, emotions, and opinion, or too busy to hear what you need to say. You might start sharing with someone else who seems more interested or with whom you feel you have common problems or interests. This could gradually develop into an intimate bond resembling a relationship.



Similarly to the case of sexual infidelity, situational factors and opportunity can lead to emotional cheating, particularly when they combine with the presence of some of the other reasons mentioned. The situation is further worsened by the advances in technology and the social media that allow instant and immediate contact, which may seem absolutely non-committal, innocent, and safe. Thus, what has started as a few occasional texts could scarily easily turn into a deep emotional bond. What’s more, the greater the closeness with the outside person becomes, the greater the distance with the partner gets. Taking the modern communications technology and conditions, it has never been easier to fall into the trap of “innocent” emotional cheating.



When thinking of relationships, the wish for variety is often associated with sexual intercourse. But not always. Variety could also be considered as having different communication and conversations, getting involved in diversified hobbies and non-sex-related activities, being attracted to other people outside the committed relationship. 



Low self-esteem has been directly linked to the increased tendency for seeking additional support and reassurance. This could lead to getting in emotional connections which supposedly offer the approval and admiration from a person who is not obliged by the commitment to provide them. This might readily turn into dependencies


How to know if someone is emotionally cheating?

Emotional Cheating

If you’ve ever wondered about all the little-known secrets and signs of emotional cheating, you should definitely check out the examples below:

  • Your partner connects with someone outside your relationship. Just a friend… There’s nothing to worry about, right? After all, we are social human beings.
  • But then you start noticing the slight but persistent change. Your partner seems to be happier every time after messaging or meeting up with the outside person. And more irritable toward you.
  • Little by little your partner becomes more away from you, and closer to the third person. More time spent messaging and enjoying coffee. He/She even discusses personal things with the “third wheel” instead of you.
  • And he/she stops telling you what he/she wants. The communication gap between both of you is decreasing. He/she doesn’t want sex or if so it seems he/she is thinking about something else.
  • Then you notice that they are exchanging gifts, inventing sweet nicknames, and showing that they love each other. Wait..what? That is unacceptable!
  • A conflict occurs. Your partner doesn’t allow you to see the “private” messages with the third wheel. In fact, he/she is denying your complaints and wishes that you were more emotionally like the outside person. Then he/she reaches the outside person to complain about the conflict.
  • And then your partner distances from you.

If you start noticing these signs then you should definitely act fast. Think about it. You have a choice in life — either you can live in the real world and alter the course of the consequences, or you can hide from the real world and pretend that your relationship is fine. 


How can you overcome emotional cheating?

Though it doesn’t involve any physical intimacy, emotional cheating could reportedly be much more painful and undermining a relationship than sexual cheating. What can you do to go through it, reconnect with your partner, and restore the trust? Use the tips you’re going to read to boost your relationship. 

You should remember that what you actually need to do is “shake” your partner, wake them up and make them realize how you feel. Don’t be afraid of being vulnerable in your relationship – speaking frankly and open-heartedly about what you sense as a problem could only improve the communication in a couple. Perhaps, after all, you might be facing an unconscious slippage across the friendship boundaries.

So, you can gently speak to your partner and try to get to the root of the problem – what is it that has made your partner emotionally attached to another person. You should definitely avoid accusing, confronting, and quarreling because this will most probably draw you further apart or provoke your partner’s reciprocal response. Besides, it’s rarely the case that distancing in a relationship is caused by one of the couple solely – one hand never claps alone.

It’s a good idea to discuss what “emotional cheating” means for both of you and set your relationship boundaries. You can read this article together and use it as a starting point for your open and honest conversation. What does your partner agree and disagree with? What can you both do to revive the trust, closeness, and intimacy in your relationship? If you truly love each other, you will both do your very best to find the way back to each other.



Is complaining about your partner to a friend cheating?

Not obligatorily. It depends on the contextual factors and on your reasons to complain. We all need to talk it over with an outside and objective party sometimes. It could be a relief. The truth is, however, that complaining about your partner to a friend usually doesn’t help you solve the problem.


Does any emotional connection with a friend count as emotional cheating?

Of course not. Having close friends is essential for every human being and for our ability to maintain healthy relationships and lifestyle. But you have to be careful and honest with yourself first. A friend isn’t just a friend if you are tempted to hide or delete messages, or lie about your chatting and meeting frequency, or you always insist on seeing your friend without being accompanied by your partner.


Is chatting cheating? 

Is speaking to someone else cheating? Of course not. It is usual to talk to other people. After all, we are social beings and we all need to communicate. But, again, it depends on what, how, and why you communicate. Ask yourself if you can readily show your partner your message exchange, and you’ll know the answer.


Is it cheating if you flirt with someone else?

Although flirting itself isn’t cheating, it definitely indicates either personality traits or some potential problems and deficiencies. So, it can’t be considered a positive trend anyway.


My spouse cheated on me. Should I forgive and stay?

It depends. Does your spouse still continue to cheat on you? Think about it. If your spouse doesn’t seem to feel sorry for hurting you, or willing to put effort to rebuild your relationship, perhaps you should let go.