7 December 2022

What Is Emotional Cheating? Signs, Examples & Why It Hurts Like Hell


Cheating, infidelity, adultery. Whatever you want to call it, it’s not big and it’s not clever, and you don’t even need to physically have sex with someone other than your partner for your behaviour to be classed as cheating, by some metrics.


We’ve previously discussed the prevalence of micro-cheating, but what about emotional cheating? You may have already heard of both terms and believe them to be one and the same, but there are some differences to look out for.

So, what is emotional cheating and what are the signs? Read on to find out.

What is emotional cheating?

Emotional cheating is, as Bustle says, when one person in a committed relationship “forms an illicit emotional attachment with someone other than [their] partner.” In essence, you seek out an emotional connection that you’re not getting from your main relationship, something you would expect all committed relationships to have.

And, while it has been suggested women are more likely to cheat than men, it’s still unclear which sex is more likely to emotionally cheat on their partner.

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MindBodyGreen builds upon this by saying, “It’s one person making a unilateral decision to cultivate nonsexual intimacy with someone other than their primary romantic partner in a way that weakens or undermines the relationship.”

For some people who are aware of this fact, they may think about going down the route of an ethical non-monogamous relationship, wherein one person may have multiple partners, but all partners are aware of the relationships and all are in agreement. An ENM relationship may be formed if someone is sexually satisfied with a partner, but doesn’t get the emotional connection and so seeks out just this aspect of a relationship with someone else.

How do I spot emotional cheating?

Emotional cheating isn’t always so easy to spot, in a similar vein to micro-cheating. The New York Post cites American woman Rachel Gebelein as being emotionally cheated on by her partner. At six-months pregnant with their second child, her partner started going away more regularly, and he eventually admitted to having an affair with another woman.

But what Rachel said was worse, wasn’t the fact he’d had sexual relations with another woman, but it was that “she found email exchanges between the two, in which they referred to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend and noted that ‘fate had brought them together.’”

Image: LUXLife Magazine

It’s this kind of language, usually conducted in secrecy, that makes someone an emotional cheater. SiriusXM podcaster Megyn Kelly has also recently touched on the subject of emotional cheating, saying “I’d much rather [my husband] have a one-night stand with a woman than sit and cry with her.”

Kelly’s podcast show guest, Canadian professor Gad Saad, added women “get more triggered and more angry and more jealous by emotional infidelity rather than sexual infidelity.”

Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine found himself in the headlines recently as well, for sending flirtatious messages – pretty shit flirtatious messages, we might add – to women other than his wife. While he insisted he hadn’t formed any real relationship with any of the women, nor had he slept with any of them, he did admit he’d done wrong.

I used poor judgment in speaking with anyone other than my wife in ANY kind of flirtatious manner. I did not have an affair, nevertheless, I crossed the line during a regrettable period of my life.

Adam Levine

Am I emotionally cheating on my partner?

But, this is if you want to find out if your partner is emotionally cheating on you. What about signs to look out for to self-diagnose yourself as a potential emotional cheater?

The most obvious is, as Mind Body Green states, “is to tune in to how you feel.”

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“Does this outside person temporarily relieve a sense of loneliness but leave you feeling lonelier in the long run? Is your closeness with them something you crave – like a sugar fix – that comes with a lingering sense of guilt when you get home to your significant other?”

Spending more time messaging someone other than your partner? You might be emotionally cheating.

Healthline lists some other signs to look out for that could indicate either you are an emotional cheater, or that your partner is emotionally cheating on you. They include:

  • spend more time talking to (or thinking about) the other person than your partner
  • avoid mentioning them to your partner
  • know they’re attracted to you
  • notice physical signs of chemistry around them
  • feel less physically or emotionally attracted to your partner
  • share frustration or dissatisfaction with your relationship with them
  • wish your partner could be more like them
  • avoid open communication with your partner

Emotional cheating vs micro-cheating: What’s the difference?

As we said earlier, you may think emotional cheating and micro-cheating are pretty much the same thing. And, while they do share many similarities, there are some key differences – although, Thomas Edwards, founder of The Professional Wingman, reckons “micro-cheating doesn’t exist,” when he spoke to Bustle.

Emotional cheating sees one person of a couple seek an emotional connection with someone else, to an extent where they will avoid talking about deep topics with their main partner. They’ll instead divulge their true feelings to the person they’re emotionally cheating with.

Micro-cheating, meanwhile, is carried out through smaller actions, but actions that still indicate you’re romantically interested in someone else. In today’s world of social media, micro-cheating is commonly carried out by regularly liking someone else’s Instagram posts or sparking up conversations online and lying about your relationship status.

But micro-cheating could even be as trivial as wondering what it would be like to have a certain someone else as your partner. Just the very fact you had the though could be grounds to be deemed a micro-cheater, some (arguably the neurotic, but that’s a story for another day) may say.

However, the type of cheating and the extent to which you pursue it could all depend on the boundaries you and your partner set, and what you both consider to be loyal or disloyal. Some partners may be perfectly fine with their other half liking another girl’s Instagram posts. But, subsequently, she wouldn’t be happy if her partner had a late-night Tinder swiping session.

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RELATED: Liking Your Insta-Crush’s Photos: What It Means

The takeaway?

As is the case with any trouble in paradise, no matter how big or small, the best way to navigate it is through open, honest communication with your partner. If something is missing in the relationship, such as an emotional connection, then be upfront with your partner.

You can then use this time either talk through problems and hopefully come to a resolution. Or, in the worst case, the relationship comes to an end, but it’s at least ended on good terms rather than finding the other has cheated.

Remember, emotionally available men are attractive. F**kbois are out.

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