Is Emotional Infidelity A Real Thing?

Updated October 27, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC

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When we think of infidelity, we usually associate the word with physical or sexual intimacy and encounters. However, emotional infidelity may cause issues within a relationship as well. Emotional infidelity is when boundaries in a relationship are broken by one partner having an emotional relationship with someone they're attracted to outside of their primary relationship. Emotional infidelity may often lead to physical or sexual infidelity.

How To Recognize Emotional Infidelity

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Signs of Emotional Infidelity

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 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 Spouse Is Emotionally Unfaithful

While it's most likely relatively easy to determine if you are having an emotional affair, it may be more difficult to know whether your partner is. A part of the reason is that they may be hiding it from you, making you believe you're wrong. Because of this, you may begin to doubt yourself. If you feel that something is going on but don't know whether it's your imagination or not, consider these possible clues.

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  • Your significant other may begin to spend more time with another person.
  • Your partner may seem happiest after spending time with that person.
  • Your relationship with your partner may become distant.
  • Your partner may often seem angry with you for no apparent reason.
  • If you bring up your suspicions, your partner becomes defensive rather than supportive.
  • Your partner may become more secretive and protective about their phone or suddenly has it password protected.
  • Your partner may be spending less time with you.
    Your partner may talk about a particular person often.
  • Your partner may become extremely defensive when you confront them with the topic.
  • Your partner may begin to criticize you more frequently.

Causes Of Emotional Infidelity

There is no exact reason or cause as to why emotional infidelity occurs. However, there are a few 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

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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 may put less effort into the relationship like they did in the beginning. This may result in one or both partners' needs not being met, and they may seek to get their emotional needs met or validation elsewhere. A new person may show the partner more attention, and they most likely haven't gotten to the point of conflict yet with them. 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's important to set clear boundaries of what is okay and what isn't okay in your relationship. Every relationship will have different boundaries as each individual has different needs and feelings. Each partner may need to express their boundaries and respect each other.

When you don't set healthy boundaries, you leave the potential for miscommunications and boundaries 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 Communications

Good communication is 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 most likely won't address those feelings in any effective way. Strong and healthy communication may resolve conflict before it begins or can keep things from becoming out of control.

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Impact Of Emotional Infidelity

Emotional infidelity can have harmful effects on a relationship. Infidelity, whether physical or emotional, can break the trust within the relationship. The partner who had an emotional affair most likely hid it and kept secrets from their primary partner. 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 may lead to something more physical, which can be incredibly hurtful to the primary partner. 

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How Can You Prevent Your Partner From Being Emotionally Unfaithful?

You can never fully prevent your partner from being emotionally unfaithful, as you likely don't have control over someone else's thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. However, you can build a strong, fulfilling, and nurturing relationship that may be more resistant to emotional infidelity. Partners who are happy and fulfilled in their relationship may be less likely to seek support or emotional intimacy elsewhere. Here are some tips that may help protect your relationship and keep it strong.

  • Be supportive of one another.
  • Have hobbies and interests outside of your relationship
  • Communicate daily and make it effective
  • Have healthy conflict and manage conflict right when it happens
  • Have regular dates together and spend quality time
  • Show respect and apologize when necessary
  • Show each other affection daily

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How Can I Save My Marriage After Emotional Infidelity?

Emotional infidelity can be considered a form of betrayal in a relationship. For some partners, emotional infidelity may end the relationship. However, you can use strategies that may repair the broken trust and strengthen relationships after emotional infidelity.

End the Affair and Hold Yourself Accountable

If you're having an emotional affair and want to save your primary relationship, you must end the affair immediately. To make this step successful, it may be most helpful to have no contact with the person you had an affair with. It is also important 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. It may also be important to have open and honest conversations with your partner to help find out what needs are not being met.

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's important to be completely open and honest with your partner from here on out. You have complete transparency, and doing what your partner needs may help to create trust again.

Talk to a Relationship Therapist

If you or your partner has had an emotional affair and you're finding it difficult to overcome, 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 specializing in helping couples overcome challenges within their relationship. They can match you with a therapist that best suits your specific needs. Reach out today to begin your journey to a healthy and more fulfilling relationship.

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