Is Emotional Infidelity A Real Thing?

Updated September 21, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

When you think of infidelity, you may associate the word with physical or sexual intimacy and encounters. However, emotional infidelity can just as easily cause issues within a relationship. Emotional infidelity occurs when boundaries in a relationship are broken by one or both partners having an intimate emotional relationship with someone outside of their primary relationship. Emotional infidelity may often lead to physical or sexual infidelity, but even if it doesn’t, it can still be just as detrimental to a relationship. 

Could You Be Having An Emotional Affair?

Is Emotional Infidelity A Real Thing?

People may have differing opinions on what constitutes infidelity. For some, only when physical lines are crossed is it considered a form of cheating. For others, emotional infidelity is a real thing, marked by a deep and intimate emotional connection with someone besides one’s partner. Discussing infidelity with your partner can be vital to establishing boundaries within the relationship and avoiding feelings of betrayal. 

Signs Of Emotional Infidelity 

Do you think you could be emotionally cheating on your partner? Could they be doing the same in return? If you're unsure if you or your partner are being emotionally unfaithful, here are some signs you may want to look out for:

  • You think of the person often when you aren't together, sometimes even when you're with your partner.

  • You feel sexual chemistry when that person is around and feel sexually attracted to them even if you aren't having a sexual affair.

  • You have frequent contact with this individual, and you may send flirty texts, messages, and emails or discuss very personal topics.

  • You buy them personal gifts that are more like romantic gifts you would give a romantic partner.

  • You have deep, meaningful conversations with that person but talk only about practical or surface level matters with your partner.

  • You try to hide your feelings for that person, or you keep secrets about your emotional relationship from your partner.

  • You may be spending more time with this person and less time with your partner.

  • You feel you have chemistry and a unique connection with this person.

  • You fantasize about being in a relationship with the other person.

  • You begin to compare them to your partner, and you may see this other person as superior to your partner, idealizing them.

Signs Your Partner May Be Emotionally Cheating

Determining if your spouse is being emotionally unfaithful can be challenging. Unlike a physical affair, emotional infidelity may be more difficult to spot. If you feel that something is going on but don't know whether it's based in reality or not, consider these possible clues:

  • Your significant other begins to spend more time with another person.

  • Your partner seems happiest after spending time with another person.

  • Your relationship with your partner has become distant.

  • Your partner often seems angry with you for no apparent reason.

  • If you bring up your suspicions, your partner becomes defensive rather than supportive.

  • Your partner becomes more secretive and about their phone or suddenly has a password on it.

  • Your partner starts spending less time with you.

  • Your partner talks about a particular person more often.

  • Your partner begins to criticize you more frequently.

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo

Causes Of Emotional Infidelity

There are several factors that may contribute to a partner committing emotional infidelity. These may include relationship dissatisfaction, lack of boundaries, inability to express themselves, and poor communication. It may also even be a combination of these things or for reasons entirely different. Below we will look at some of the factors that may cause emotional infidelity.

  • Relationship Dissatisfaction: When someone is having an emotional affair, they may become more dissatisfied with their primary relationship. However, the dissatisfaction may be what led to the partner having an emotional affair in the first place. When a couple has been in a committed relationship for a long time, the honeymoon stage usually begins to fade, and partners may become comfortable. They might put less effort into the relationship than they did in the beginning. This may result in one or both partners' needs not being met, and they may seek to get them met elsewhere. A new person may show the partner more attention and this new emotional relationship may seem like an escape from the issues in their primary relationship, leading to an emotional affair.

  • Failure To Set Boundaries: Just as in other aspects of life, it can be important to set clear boundaries of what is and isn't okay in your relationship. Every relationship has different boundaries as everyone has different needs and feelings. When partners don't set healthy boundaries, they leave the potential for miscommunication and lines being crossed. It may be helpful to set these boundaries in the beginning, so each partner understands what they deem as "cheating" or infidelity.

  • Poor Communication: Healthy communication can be a vital part of any relationship. Without it, you may find it difficult to resolve your differences when they come up. If one of you feels dissatisfied with or worried about the relationship, you may not be able to address those feelings in an effective way without open and honest conversations. Strong and healthy communication may resolve conflict before it begins and can keep things from becoming out of control.

The Impact Of Emotional Infidelity

Emotional infidelity can have harmful effects on a relationship. The partner who had an emotional affair most likely hid it and kept secrets. This may make the other partner feel as though they can't trust them again. Seeking emotional intimacy and validation in another person also most likely won't fix the issues within the primary relationship. It may potentially create confusion as to what you want or need. Emotional infidelity can lead to something more physical if left unchecked, which can be incredibly hurtful to the primary partner. 

How Can You Prevent Your Partner From Being Emotionally Unfaithful?

You can’t stop your partner from being emotionally unfaithful as you do not control their thoughts, feelings, or actions. However, strong, fulfilling, and nurturing relationships may be more resistant to emotional infidelity. Partners who are happy and satisfied in their relationship may be less likely to seek support or emotional intimacy elsewhere. Here are some tips that may help your relationship stay strong:

  • Be supportive of one another

  • Have hobbies and interests outside of your relationship

  • Communicate on a regular basis

  • Have healthy conflict and manage conflict as it occurs

  • Have regular dates together and spend quality time with one another

  • Show respect and apologize when necessary

  • Show each other affection daily

  • Have intimate conversations 

How Can I Save My Marriage After Emotional Infidelity?

Emotional infidelity can be considered a form of betrayal and may signal an end to the relationship. However, you can use different strategies to repair the broken trust between you and your spouse and strengthen the relationship. Consider doing the following after emotional infidelity has impacted your marriage: 

  • End The Affair And Hold Yourself Accountable: If you're having an emotional affair and want to save your primary relationship, an important first step can be to end the affair. It may be most helpful to have no contact with the person you had an affair with. It can also be essential to hold yourself accountable to your partner and own up to your mistakes.

  • Analyze Why It Happened: To begin rebuilding your relationship and preventing an affair from happening again, it may be beneficial to analyze what factors contributed to your behavior. It can help to be introspective to figure out why this has happened. Having open and honest conversations with your partner can help each of you discover which of your needs are not being met in the relationship.

  • Rebuild Trust: Possibly one of the most difficult parts of repairing a relationship after infidelity is rebuilding trust. If you were the partner having an affair, it can be crucial to be open and honest with your partner moving forward. Reestablishing trust in the relationship can take time, consistency, and patience from both partners.

Could You Be Having An Emotional Affair?

Online Counseling With Regain

If you or your partner has had an emotional affair and you’re struggling to move past it, a relationship therapist may be able to help. Therapy can help partners develop tools and strategies to communicate more effectively and overcome the breach of trust in the relationship. Regain is an online therapy platform that specializes in helping couples overcome challenges within their relationship. They can match you with a therapist that suits your specific needs. Making the time for therapy may seem complicated, especially when you’re trying to accommodate two different busy schedules. With online therapy, you can connect with your therapist from anywhere you have Wi-Fi at any time. Reach out to begin your journey to a healthy and more fulfilling relationship.

The Efficacy Of Online Counseling 

If your relationship has experienced emotional infidelity, online counseling could help you and your partner move past it. Researchers have discovered that internet-based couples therapy can be a viable intervention for improving relationship satisfaction and decreasing relationship distress. Couples participating in an online intervention were able to identify the specific problems in their relationship and take steps together to address them. This led to greater satisfaction with one another and with the relationship, improving the health and happiness of both individuals.  

The Takeaway

Being on the same page with your partner about what constitutes cheating can be important. While emotional infidelity may not involve anything physical, it can still have detrimental effects on a relationship and be just as hurtful. Practicing open communication with your partner and being honest can help each of you maintain a healthy, secure relationship with one another, reducing the likelihood that either of you goes elsewhere to have your needs met. If you or your partner has been involved in an emotional affair, online counseling could be beneficial. Regain can connect you with a couples therapist who can help reestablish the trust in your relationship. Together, you can learn how to move past the obstacles that have been holding you back.

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