What’s the difference between emotional and physical cheating?
We are getting more and more used to living in a virtual world, and so it’s not hard to accept the fact that for some, cheating is no longer just a physical act. With the rise of mobile communication, the internet and isolation, the adjective ’emotional’ is increasingly being attached to the standard definition of infidelity to describe a relationship of this kind, where physical intimacy is replaced by feelings and thoughts.
Lack of physical contact does not spare emotional cheating from its damaging consequences, especially for women. The Journal of the International Academy of Sexual Studies has published official statistics on the subject: men are more upset by physical infidelity (without an emotional connection) and women by emotional infidelity (even if there is no sex). 65% of heterosexual women in the University of California, Los Angeles study confirmed that physical infidelity caused them less distress than emotional infidelity.
What is emotional infidelity?
The traditional definition of infidelity does not imply ambiguity – it is a sexual affair on the side that involves one of the partners (spouses). Emotional infidelity is a type of infidelity based on intimacy without physical contact.
Usually in adultery, people meet face to face and make love, i.e. sex. With emotional infidelity, you don’t have to meet – you can see each other on FaceTime or Zoom, call each other on WhatsApp or Skype. Or still meet – say, for lunch, on the weekend, or on the way home from work (unless you work together, which is often the case with emotional affairs) – and pour out each other’s souls, without the distraction of intimacy. That’s why many of those who cheat emotionally don’t see it as infidelity. In their view, if there is no physical contact, such behaviour is not considered cheating.
But no matter how much “emotional lovers” reassure themselves, this kind of connection brings them so close that it inevitably damages the existing relationship. As the topics become more personal and the secrets keep from the husband/boyfriend, the chaste relationship with a friend/colleague becomes a bond that requires you to lie to your partner to hide the true nature of your parallel story.
Signs of emotional infidelity
Someone who is being cheated on (emotionally or physically) will sooner or later feel the lack of attention, the lion’s share of which goes to the one on the side. Call your sweetheart out as soon as you figure out you’re on his side. If he starts hiding the truth after your calls for honesty, it’s likely your relationship will have a dismal prognosis. Trust your intuition, it never fails.
If you are emotionally “out”, keep in mind that cheating is inherent in a characteristic escalation. Events build up: first you enjoy communication, then you begin to seek moral support, gradually begin to complain about his beloved, and as a consequence, to hide the topics discussed with “friend”. Then you will start to compare it with your partner, pointing out the obvious advantages, but you will deny the level of intimacy that you have achieved with the hero of your emotional affair. Deleting emails, erasing messages, and turning off notifications will become a habit with you – simply because they contain information not intended for your partner.
“The transition from emotional intimacy to physical intimacy happens naturally, although not necessarily at all,” comments psychologist and trauma specialist Emma Tomson. – Over time, the emotional connection on the side leads to a decrease in attraction towards your partner, or an unwillingness to spend time with him or her. If you plunge into an emotional affair, you should be aware of what you are risking for the sake of this dubious intimacy.
Causes of emotional cheating
The reasons for emotional cheating are the same as for physical cheating. Either you lack something in the relationship, or you are not used to thinking about your partner’s feelings, or due to a number of reasons you have developed a pattern of seeking solace on the side every time you feel bored or stressed. Lets examine in detail the first reason, because the other two require a professional psychologist or psychotherapist.
The desire for intimacy with someone else occurs if you are unsure of your current relationship or feel lonely, even when you are alone with your sweetheart. This often happens in couples where one of the partners cannot fully open up, be themselves or does not trust their other half. If you haven’t been open with him or her from the beginning and have been adjusting to his or her interests, sooner or later you will start looking for an outlet for your real emotions. Perhaps your relationship has taken a turn for the worse and you lack love and understanding. Or caring and support. Or all seems well, but you’ve forgotten the last time you experienced, rather than fake, an orgasm. Either way, only you know why you started looking for emotion outside your couple. There is always a reason.
Consequences of emotional cheating
Some argue that an emotional affair is harmless because it is more of a friendship than a love affair. However, the intimate nature of the communication, emotional involvement and secrecy towards the husband/boyfriend strip the relationship of its innocence. Furthermore, emotional affairs often serve as a gateway to infidelity and are just as likely to lead to the breakup of a relationship as physical infidelity.
Let’s look at emotional infidelity with a simple example. Let’s say married Masha meets married Petya, her high school sweetheart, on Facebook. They friend each other, correspond and gradually their communication loses any formality. They chat about everything, including their partners, share intimate details of marital problems and criticise their husbands behind their backs. Eventually, communication leads to emotional attachment out of a sense of mutual support. Masha and Petya reminisce about their previous relationship and wonder why they split up, since they have so much in common. They long to see each other and experience again what they felt in their youth. It is not out of the question that they confess their love for each other. Here we have the fact of emotional infidelity, which is about to escalate into physical infidelity.
“Mary and Peter are not cheating partners in the ordinary sense of the word, but between them clearly arose special intimacy, ” explains the psychologist. – It is not difficult to conclude what is the danger of emotional infidelity in this case: intimacy with Peter is not good for Mary’s relationship with her husband, destroys and undermines it. An emotionally unfaithful partner pays more attention to the object of his affection than to his other half, withdraws from the obligations of marriage.
How to survive emotional cheating
According to a psychologist, the most important thing in overcoming emotional infidelity is the ability to admit it. Having decided on the responsible step, you will be ready to go to the next level and choose what is more important to you – the existing relationship or an illusory connection with unclear prospects. Once you’ve decided on your priorities, proceed to take drastic measures:
Option #1: Divorce in favour of an emotional affair.
Option #2: Get out of an emotional affair for the sake of an ongoing relationship.
Choosing the second option, you will most likely have to have a heart-to-heart talk with your significant other. Telling them that you have feelings for the other person is probably not a good idea, but you can discuss the reasons why you got carried away with the affair and suggest a way to rectify the situation. As for the “third one”, be honest with yourself and consider whether you can turn your connection solely in a friendly direction. If not, “cut the hell out” – and as soon as possible.
If it wasn’t you who cheated, take time out to think about whether you can forgive the emotional cheating. As said above, this isn’t easy for women, and you don’t have to prove your sanctity to someone who has neglected your love.