Emotional Cheating vs. Physical Cheating

blind-in-loveMost people would probably agree that cheating in a relationship isn’t generally the best thing to do, even if some of these same people have cheated in the past. But by cheating most are referring to physical infidelity — an intimate touch, a kiss, or more. What is less discussed and less clear to many is emotional cheating — the building of emotional and psychological intimacy with someone other than one’s partner, even while remaining physically faithful. Is emotional cheating actually cheating? Some say no, others say maybe, and I say yes.

Not only is emotional cheating as much of cheating as physical indiscretions are, I suspect that emotional cheating is the much more common form of cheating. This is supported by surveys that show that over half of men and women have formed an emotionally close yet physically platonic relationship with someone other than mate. Emotional affairs seem to be the way out for those who are no longer satisfied with their formal relationship but will not or can not be physically intimate with another. By creating closeness with someone else the cheater renews the spark of romance and feelings they once had, without the disruption of ending their current relationship or worrying about being caught cheating.

It may be much harder to definitively pin down what makes up emotional cheating, but many are aware of its existence. However, as with physical cheating, partners find ways to excuse emotional infidelity. Many turn a blind eye to emotional cheating with the thought that, “Well, s/he’s still going home with me.” Songs have been written describing this situation, the singer unabashedly proclaiming to the other woman or man that their partner will be with them in the end. All is well, as long as their partner remains with them, physically.

But it is my view that emotional cheating is as bad or even worse than physical cheating. Neither are preferable, but emotional cheating violates a relationship at the deepest level. By having an emotional affair, a cheater takes away from the intimacy of their relationship and is less emotionally available, if at all.

What their partner is left with is the shell of a relationship, little of substance remains. One may say the relationship no longer exists once the cheater checks out emotionally. Relationships may be dealt with in the physical realm, but they are created in the emotional realm.

What are your thoughts? Is emotional cheating still cheating and how does it compare to physical cheating?

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21 thoughts on “Emotional Cheating vs. Physical Cheating

  1. I have to say that I think that developing emotional connections with others besides your mate is not always a bad thing. Depending on your partner for all of your emotional needs can lead to burn out for that partner. Having other outlets means that you can get your needs met, without draining the other person. It also means that you can be there for your partner when they need support.

    I think that things go awry when couples have challenges in their relationship and they don’t engage each other in a solution because it seems impossible, or they are just trying to keep the peace.

  2. I personally think that emotional cheating is more dangerous than physical cheating, two people can sleep with each other but it may not mean anything or it might be just sexual and/ or to satisfy immediate gratification(urges)

    But on the other end, emotional dependency is way to deep esp for women. Let’s face it, the rule is that women are emotional creatures( but there’s an exception to the rule) and guys are the rational ones….

    For a woman to be involved in an emotional infidelity, it means that she has invested her emotions, her thoughts and feelings and her being…..and the more she fantasies about the other partner the more she moves away from her present partner….

    But, Ultimately…..in my opinion cheating is just wrong. I don’t encourage it. I’d rather break up with someone than cheat….. because it’s a lie, after lie, and after lie ….and did I mention LIE after lie? And it’s exhausting, the constant worry of being found OUT…..it’s terrifying.

  3. For me, emotional cheating is not worse than physical cheating, it’s the same as. This is how I view the possible situations that may arise while in a committed relationship: emotional cheating = physical cheating = one-night stand = affair. They all carry the same weight for damage to the relationship, because they all demonstrate apathy by the cheater toward her/his partner.

  4. Sherry,

    “I have to say that I think that developing emotional connections with others besides your mate is not always a bad thing. Depending on your partner for all of your emotional needs can lead to burn out for that partner.”

    It isn’t a bad thing at all — I agree. This you + me only idea some people have going seems pretty exhausting.

    But there have to be some sort of boundaries in the friendship, yes? A friendship with someone of the opposite sex can be fine, but I think emotional cheaters are aware that their relationships are hardly purely platonic

    “I think that things go awry when couples have challenges in their relationship and they don’t engage each other in a solution because it seems impossible, or they are just trying to keep the peace.”

    Uh, yeah! You said it. “Keeping the peace” and avoiding arguments is a slow poison for a relationship; I speak from experience.

  5. mkhululie,

    “I personally think that emotional cheating is more dangerous than physical cheating, two people can sleep with each other but it may not mean anything or it might be just sexual and/ or to satisfy immediate gratification(urges)”

    Yes. Even though I’m not that way, I understand it’s just a physical outlet for some.

    But with emotional cheating, why are you defaulting to women? I actually don’t think women are the main culprits! In my life, the biggest emotional cheaters have been men.

    Married men, men in longterm relationships, men in shortterm relationships. Men can be needy on the emotional intimacy and when they don’t get it from their SO, instead of discussing it like a woman would do (because you know men don’t have emotional needs…), they try to fill their emotional needs with someone else.

    I’m not saying women don’t do it, but I wouldn’t eye women first at all.

    “I’d rather break up with someone than cheat….. because it’s a lie, after lie, and after lie ….and did I mention LIE after lie? And it’s exhausting, the constant worry of being found OUT…..it’s terrifying.”

    You sound like you know firsthand? :)

    jrd, welcome.

    That’s an interesting perspective. In terms of the partner you’re right that all forms of infidelity can be the same. Often it’s how far removed the cheating partner is from the relationship that determines how much of a violation it will be.

  6. lol @ Alee, I’ve never cheated on someone…….

    But I like this “all forms of infidelity can be the same. Often it’s how far removed the cheating partner is from the relationship that determines how much of a violation it will be”

    @ Sherry “I Depending on your partner for all of your emotional needs can lead to burn out for that partner”

    I kind of don’t agree with you, there reason why there’s a lot of cheating it’s due to having emotional dependency to the opposite sex with someone other than your partner…..

    The only people I share my emotional state with is my family or my girlfriends(some of them), hardly a guy because he might get ideas and it’s going to seem like I’m inviting him into my life and my situation….

  7. I definitely agree that emotional cheating is just as bad or worse. Depending on your situation– especially when you are in an emotionally unsatisfying relationship, you cannot have close male friends as a woman. People don’t always cheat for the sex. They need fulfillment in other ways– someone who listens to them, values their opinions, etc.Regardless of the motive, it’s wrong– you can’t fix a problem by going outside the relationship. You work on it, accept things the way they are, or you leave and find someone else. It’s not fair to cheat– it’s selfish and immature. Again, it’s about throwing out unrealistic expectations of the person you are with. I don’t expect my husband to make me happy– I have to make myself happy. It’s up to me to find that happiness in healthy, nondestructive ways like work, hobbies, friends, etc. Our relationship is what it is– I can’t and won’t expect him to be what I want him to be, because he isn’t capable. Nor am I looking for someone to “fill the void”– a lot of women do that– and maybe some men. I know from experience..

  8. mkhululie,

    “lol @ Alee, I’ve never cheated on someone…”

    Okay, I believe you, really. :)

    madamesiamese,

    “People don’t always cheat for the sex. They need fulfillment in other ways– someone who listens to them, values their opinions, etc.Regardless of the motive, it’s wrong– you can’t fix a problem by going outside the relationship.”

    Agreed 100 percent.

    “Again, it’s about throwing out unrealistic expectations of the person you are with.”

    Right. Some people don’t realize that everyone has their faults and those faults will begin to bother you after some time. You have to learn to accept, adjust, tolerate. Looking for someone else to replace your partner is just trading in one set of quirks/issues, for another.

    “I don’t expect my husband to make me happy– I have to make myself happy.”

    I do expect my partner to make me happy — he has to bring some sort of joy to my life or what’s the point. Although I guess the word should be happier, because I think everyone should at least be content with themselves. But I do think of my partner as completing me in ways. Not that I’m incomplete, if that makes any sense.

  9. For me, emotional cheating is much worse physical cheating, which is still bad. Frankly, if my bf has a fling or one night stand, I hope to God he is careful and keeps it to himself. I’d rather not know.
    However, if he is having an affair or has a mistress (implying some level of emotional and other sort of investment on his part), well, the gloves come off…

  10. Sophia,

    “For me, emotional cheating is much worse physical cheating, which is still bad. Frankly, if my bf has a fling or one night stand, I hope to God he is careful and keeps it to himself. I’d rather not know.”

    I’d be pretty irritated at both, to say the least. I’d want to know (so I can dump him :P ), but I also wouldn’t want to know at the same time. Women who don’t bother about their partners having flings or casual sexual affairs seem brave to me. I wouldn’t be able to just ignore it.

  11. Alee: “Women who don’t bother about their partners having flings or casual sexual affairs seem brave to me.”

    I know many will think I’m harsh, but I consider anyone who either does not want to know or will overlook some infidility as weak and spineless. Though it would be crushing to know my husband thought so little of me he would become involved with another woman, I would want to know so that I would be the one to make the decision whether my marriage will continue, and not allow the one who cheated to decide. I am unable to understand why anyone would willingly hand over that power to the one that betrayed them.

  12. I might be naive, but I don’t make a huge difference between the two types of cheating. I mean, to me, cheating is always emotional. If there’s a physical component involved, the worse. But I don’t buy the whole “oh, my dick just mysteriously appeared in this woman’s vagina; it didn’t mean anything to me emotionally”. Nope. I don’t buy it.

    They say when a woman cheats it’s worse because it’s always emotional, while a man can cheat with his body only. Fail. I don’t buy this. Any cheating is emotional; this is what cheating is, an emotional business.

    So, to me, the only difference is whether there’s a physical component or not. And when there is, it can be worse, but it all depends on the situation. However, a person doesn’t have to have any physical contact with someone else to be cheating, that’s for sure.

  13. jrd,

    “I know many will think I’m harsh, but I consider anyone who either does not want to know or will overlook some infidility as weak and spineless.”

    I understand how you feel. In a way it is the easier way out to overlook it and keep believing your relationship is picture-perfect. But in my mind it also takes some level of fortitude to not go completely bonkers at finding out your partner is cheating, especially if it’s a long-term relationship.

    Re: the rest of your comment — I wonder how many people who cheat actually end their relationship soon? I’d be interested in knowing… none of the people I know who’ve had more than a casual cheat wanted to end their relationships, and didn’t.

  14. Hi Mira,

    “I might be naive, but I don’t make a huge difference between the two types of cheating. I mean, to me, cheating is always emotional.”

    For me too, if I cheated (which I don’t ever foresee happening, ever, ever) there would be some emotional component to it. But I don’t think this goes for everyone. Some people do seem to be able to separate emotions and physical intimacy.

    “I don’t buy the whole “oh, my dick just mysteriously appeared in this woman’s vagina; it didn’t mean anything to me emotionally”. ‘

    LOL.

    “So, to me, the only difference is whether there’s a physical component or not. And when there is, it can be worse, but it all depends on the situation.”

    How does it depend on the situation… i.e. how can the physical aspect not make it worse?

    Also, I added your website link to your first comment.

  15. No, I meant: it depends on situation whether I’d find physical cheating worse or not. It depends on emotional investment. But I guess you need more emotional investment into having sex with someone than holding their hand.

    I know some people can separate physical and emotional intimacy; in a way, I can, too. But to do physical cheating, you have to erase emotional intimacy with your partner. I know it’s possible to have sex without emotions, but I don’t buy you can cheat your partner without messing up the emotions you have towards them.

    So, no, I don’t buy the “it was just sex/kiss, it didn’t mean anything”. Oh, I believe this person didn’t mean anything to you. I get that. But it also shows a great disrespect towards your partner, and it means your emotions towards your partner are not the way they should be.

  16. Most would say that emotional cheating is far more dangerous than purely physical cheating. People are much more likely to up and leave their spouse if their emotionally invested in an affair partner.

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