What Is Emotional Cheating and Are You Suffering From It?

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Claire sits across from her husband, Peter, as his iPhone dings for the third consecutive time. They’re trying to enjoy their monthly date night at the trendy French bistro on the Upper West Side. Claire notices he no longer allows his notifications to dance across the screen—this has been going on for the past couple of months. His phone dings again and he quickly turns the ringer to silent, as if he knows Claire might ask who’s calling him at 9:30 p.m. on a weeknight. Claire has that gut-wrenching feeling that it’s the beautiful woman who is working on the new project with him at work. She’s right, and let’s just say Claire doesn’t think she’s texting him at this hour to ask about the quarterly report.

What Is Emotional Cheating?

Emotional cheating is not cut and dry, and that ambiguity can sometimes make us feel like we are the crazy ones if we suspect our partner is “emotionally cheating on us. 

“They’re probably just good friends.” 

“They have a lot in common.”

“There’s no need to worry.”

These are some of the chants that might run through our minds as we stare at the gorgeous model who continuously pops up on his Facebook posts. 

“They’re probably just lonely, their spouse left.”

The texts and the FaceTime calls go unanswered with you both sitting at your ten-year-old daughter’s ballet recital. Once again, you chalk it up to, “I must be paranoid, nuts! I should stop being so suspicious. How small of me to be this jealous!”

Navigating Emotional Disconnect and Recognizing Red Flags

Let’s face it, we’re all human beings who want that special emotional connection with someone- preferably our spouse if we’re married. To be real, sometimes we get what we want and sometimes we don’t. This is all part of the complicated human experience that we must navigate every single day of our lives. The truth is, some of us might think we have an amazing and profound connection with our partner.

What we may not realize is that our partner could have a different narrative. While you’re sipping margaritas out on the island thinking “Life’s a beach”, for example, they’re on the mainland screaming from their vehicle in five o’clock traffic, wondering how they can get out. So, what do they do if they are feeling less than satisfied in the relationship, or bored with the same-old, same-old? They might find an escape in the form of someone who looks like they will solve or at least, distract them from their problems. Maybe this new friend will make them feel like “life is fun” again.

My friend, Shelly, sang a lot of chants to herself. As much as she didn’t want to believe it, she could feel something wasn’t right in her marriage. Was she crazy? Not by a long shot she eventually discovered. Her husband of eighteen years was having an emotional affair with his ex-girlfriend from college. The lesson? Don’t always ignore the red flags, because all too often your gut is right.

What is Emotional Infidelity?

How do psychologists define the sometimes undefinable — emotional cheating? They call it “emotional infidelity” and according to Psychology Today it occurs … 

When a person in a committed relationship forms a deep emotional connection with a third party, they are engaging in an emotional affair. This connection does not involve sexual contact or any type of physical intimacy, this is an emotional relationship, whereby two people share their emotions, thoughts, and support. Elements of emotional infidelity include an emotional connection with a third party that may surpass that of the primary committed relationship, a certain amount of secrecy and deception, and an emotional investment in the affair.”

Even though there is no physicality, it’s the secretive aspect of this “friendship” that makes this dynamic so insidious.


Check out, “My Husband Destroyed Me Emotionally.”


How Do You Know You’re Suffering from Emotional Cheating?

Emotional infidelity is like jumping into a lagoon full of murky water. You’ve got your diving mask, your snorkel, and your fins. You’re ready to explore all of the possibilities beneath the surface, but as hard as you search and as deep as you dive, you can’t quite make out what’s right in front of you — or maybe deep down, you don’t want to know. You think it’s a rare occurrence, maybe a Picassofish that you can only find in the Indo-Pacific region. But how can you be sure? You’re looking right at it, but you can’t quite make out the colors.

This is what it feels like when you’re trying to determine if your partner is swimming in those murky waters with another beautiful fish or not. It’s frustrating– the colors are not so vibrant, you’re trying to get a clear picture but you can’t, and you’re exhausted because you’re not quite sure your snorkel is even connected. To be honest you feel like you can barely breathe. 

Let’s crawl onto land for a minute and ask ourselves what can we possibly know for sure when it comes to emotional cheating. Short of hiring a private detective, you will have to look for signs. These signs may suggest your spouse is involved in an emotional affair … with someone other than you.

Withdrawal

Have you noticed that your spouse is no longer coming to the dinner table at night? They always have something else that comes up when you’re supposed to have that one-on-one time. These actions could be symptoms of a much bigger problem. They don’t want to be alone with you anymore. It’s almost as if they’re scared that you might get too close and see right through them.

Increased Secrecy

Every time a message flashes across their screen, suddenly their iPhone finds the pocket of their pants faster than a rabbit finds its hole. They get super defensive when you even mention their Ex’s name from high school. In reality, you just asked how that Ex was doing because you heard their father passed away a few months ago.

Distant

You feel like your spouse is on vacation somewhere, but you’re not invited. They’re sitting at arm’s length away from you, but their mind is nowhere inside the walls of the gorgeous home that you built together.

These are all indications that your partner may have other things going on in their emotional world besides you. Though these may be subtle signs, you will want to address them.


Learn more. Read “Emotional Cheating: Infidelity in the Modern Marriage.”


Can You Overcome Emotional Cheating? 

Even though your partner may be engaging in an emotional affair, it doesn’t mean there is no hope.

Sometimes, hope is the strongest thing you have.

Be kind to yourself and try to talk it out. Research suggests that women find emotional affairs far more serious than physical affairs (for men, it’s the opposite.) So know that if you are deeply troubled about what you are sensing, you are well within the realm of normal. Be honest and open with your spouse about how you’re feeling. If they do admit they are having an emotional affair with someone, try to be the bigger person. Instead of escalating the situation and making the relationship worse, take a step back and evaluate your relationship to discover what might be missing for both of you and work toward reestablishing trust and emotional intimacy.

You can describe the hurt you have felt and your partner may see the situation in a much different light. It’s vital to set boundaries and reevaluate your priorities in the relationship so that you can move toward an emotional bond once again. You don’t want the baggage of the past moving into the new frontier of your emotional relationship. You want to break those ties so you can begin anew.

Seeking Professional Help and Exploring Your Options

If your spouse denies the situation, you could suggest you meet with a couples’ therapist, because you can’t keep living like this. If in response to that request, your spouse is not willing to work on the marriage and attend counseling together or to honor your feelings, then you have an answer as hard as it is to hear. To feel less trapped, crazy, alone (you name the feeling!), you could schedule a free consultation with SAS for Women, and learn about your other choices besides staying in a marriage where your feelings are denied.


Consider reading “Bad Marriage: The Real Impact and What to Do About It.”


Conclusion 

No matter which way you look at marriage—it’s complicated. When we grow up, we realize marriage is a lot more than knights in shining armor charging in to sweep us off our feet. If we’re being real, it’s more about forgiveness, compromise, sacrifice, and navigating the complexities of love the best we can. The decision you have to make is, what is your breaking point? We’re all broken, we all have our faults, but it’s also healthy to have boundaries. If we choose to ignore the signs and our partner is in an emotional relationship with someone else, we can also become invisible—not only to our partner but to ourselves.

NOTES

This article was written by Lori Ann Feeley who loves helping others find hope in the darkest corners of life. She is a freelance writer, adoption advocate, Certified Life Coach, and Founder & CEO of Faith Revolution Creative. Connect with Lori Ann at loriann@faithrevolutioncreative.com.

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women has been entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. 

SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you, and your future. All of it is delivered discreetly to your inbox.  

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*SAS continues to support same-sex and nonbinary marriage. In this article, however, we refer to your spouse as husband/he/him.


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