Emotional cheating: Is it better or worse than a sexual affair?

Published on: 6 December 2021, 09:00 am IST

Ever heard of emotional cheating? It happens when your friendship with someone gets so intimate that it comes at the cost of emotional investment with your partner.

emotional cheating
Emotional cheating is at times worse than a traditional ‘affair’. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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We live in an age where meeting people is as easy as scrolling through social media apps. Yes, just a few swipes and voila, a new person can enter your life. But the issue arises when it affects your relationship with your partner, in case you are committed. If lately, your friendship with a certain someone has crossed some invisible boundary and entered a new zone of longing that comes at the cost of emotional investment with your partner, this is a cause for concern. 

Is it also that you find your thoughts, feelings and actions directed towards this other person? Do you feel more connected and understood in this “friendship” than you did/do in the relationship with your partner? If you answered YES to most of these questions, you are experiencing an emotional affair while emotionally cheating on your partner!

emotional cheating
If you feel a lack of commitment, it could be a sign of cheating. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

To understand what this really is, HealthShots got in touch with Meenakshi Shivaramakrishnan, Senior Clinical Psychologist at IWill. 

How is it different from platonic intimacy?

“A key difference lies in the fact that friends play a supportive role, not a leading one. Sharing problems, issues, life dreams and goals with someone other than your spouse or partner takes attention away from your relationship and is considered an emotional affair. You also keep this relationship close to your chest, unlike a healthy, supportive friendship. It usually comes at the cost of one’s closeness and trust with their partner,” adds Shivaramakrishnan. 

The typical signs of having an emotional affair include frequent contact, frequent and sometimes inappropriate sharing, constant thoughts, feeling understood, unfair comparisons, spending more time together in your other relationship, while maintaining secrecy and spending less time with your partner.

“It’s healthy to have emotional support from people outside of your partner, but secrecy has implications for your romantic partnership. This type of attachment may not seem threatening or problematic, since you don’t plan on getting physical. Yet emotional cheating can begin to erode the foundations of your relationship and weaken your commitment to your partner,” she adds. 

If you find yourself getting that support and intimacy outside of your relationship, you might not feel the need to exercise that muscle with your partner and it could impact not only emotional intimacy but physical intimacy as well.

What must one keep in mind?

These emotionally unfaithful relationships often begin as strictly nonphysical. With time though, they can easily develop into romantic relationships.

Some argue that an emotional affair is harmless because it is more of a casual relationship than traditional cheating. However, the intimate nature of the communication, plus the emotional investment made by the people involved, places an emotional affair on the same level as, or worse than, traditional cheating. 

emotional cheating
Emotional affairs are often a result of feeling neglected, misunderstood or overlooked in a relationship. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

“In short, an inappropriate emotional connection can be just as dangerous to a relationship as a physical affair,” says Shivaramakrishnan. 

Stages of emotional affairs:

  • Innocent friendship stage
  • Infatuation stage
  • Need for secrecy stage
  • Emotionally dependent stage

“A common reason for emotional affairs is a partner not being able to fully express themselves in the relationship. Instead of letting an emotional affair destroy your relationship, know that it’s possible to improve things with the right resources, boundaries, and time,” says the expert. 

What can be done?

1. End the emotional affair, and take responsibility

2. Figure out why it happened

3. Rebuild trust

4. Communicate your feelings with each other

The bottom line: intentional or not, emotional cheating can cause plenty of pain. 

“The way forward, though tough, can be successful with effective communication and a strong intent of rebuilding trust in the relationship,” concludes Shivaramakrishnan. 

Geetika Sachdev Geetika Sachdev

An independent writer and journalist, Geetika loves sharp and fresh humour, just like her coffee! If not writing, you'll find her cafe-hopping and raiding the best book stores in town.

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