How to forgive emotional cheating

How to forgive emotional cheating

Emotional cheating, as opposed to physical cheating, involves turning to someone who is not your spouse or partner for emotional support. This typically begins as some form of friendship, but ultimately grows into something that is more threatening to the intimacy between you and your partner. While there are many different opinions surrounding the severity of emotional cheating, it is ultimately a personal decision for how to manage the consequences and begin the forgiveness process. While some partners agree that emotional cheating doesn’t compare to physical cheating, others believe that it is actually even more catastrophic and detrimental to a relationship. Regardless of which camp you are in, there are three initial steps that you can take if you are hoping to forgive someone for emotional cheating.

1. Talk about the bigger issues

If your partner found it necessary to seek out emotional support from a friend, colleague or acquaintance, there is probably a larger issue bubbling below the surface. Emotional cheating occurs when someone turns to an individual that is not their spouse or partner for support, guidance, or just emotional closeness during times of need.

If your partner has recently emotionally cheated, and you are looking for ways to cope with the new distrust, consider getting deeper into the initial reasons they reached out for help in the first place. Are there emotional troubles, stressors, or major life events that may have caused this person to reach out for emotional support somewhere else? Is there a chance they are not comfortable speaking with you about the topic?

You might also be interested in: How to Heal After Being Cheated On

2. Know your boundaries and be able to articulate them

What bothers one person may not bother another. We all have different frameworks for what is acceptable and appropriate in a romantic relationship, so what is acceptable to your partner may not be acceptable to you. The goal is to integrate those frameworks into a single foundation from which you can grow the relationship.

While both partners will need to compromise to some extent, it’s helpful to know what your boundaries are when it comes to your partner’s secondary relationships. Of course, we cannot control our partner’s interactions with the world, but when we can articulate what we are uncomfortable with, we give our partner a chance to operate within those boundaries.

3. Be emotionally present when communicating

Emotional cheating tends to occur when one individual is in need of help and the other just may not be fully available or present to deal with the issues. Take a moment to consider this: have you made it clear to your partner that you are ready and willing to work through even the hardest of life’s challenges? Have you been particularly busy with work, kids, or friends? There may be a chance they simply don’t think you have the time to take on their burden.

Carve out time to have open communication where both of you feel free and empowered to share things that may not be easy to talk about. If you are physically available to communicate make sure you are also emotionally available. This means, put down your phone, reduce distractions, and take a few moments each day to truly work through some of the things your partner may be struggling with.

4. Seek out support from others who have experienced emotional cheating

When our boundaries have been crossed by our partner, we might feel shame, confusion, embarrassment, or a host of other uncomfortable feelings. For a time, we may not trust our partner, who may previously have been our primary emotional support. This can leave us feeling isolated and alone. You can be certain, however, that you and your partner are not the only ones who have experienced emotional cheating.

Try finding others who have been through what you’re going through, and see how they handled it in their relationship. This can be particularly helpful if you seek out those who had the outcome you wish for, so, for example, if you want to work through the issue with your partner, find others whose relationships were able to overcome and flourish post-cheating.

5. Consider seeking a relationship coach

Emotional cheating may be a result of having traumatic past relationships, or simply not having a healthy foundation that you can build a meaningful relationship upon. There is no reason to blame yourself for emotional cheating, it may just be a consequence of unhealthy relationship patterns from the past. It is not always easy for individuals to break out of an unhealthy pattern, and even with the most open and honest communication, emotional cheating may have crossed a certain line that you just feel as if you cannot come back from.

Relationship coaches are there as a neutral third party that can help you and your significant other to work through some of the harder moments in life. While there may be guilt, shame, or anger felt towards your partner for the emotional cheating, it is important to take healthy steps to make sure both of you can forgive each other in the long run.

Consider reaching out to a certified relationship coach, such as Jessica Yaffa , for some advice as to how to navigate this confusing moment of life. Coaching sessions can be individualized, or done as a couple, and are targeted to help work through issues with self-worth, toxic patterns, and unhealthy communication tactics.

How to forgive emotional cheating

Have you ever gotten very close to someone who isn’t your partner? You didn’t have an affair because nothing physical happened, but it still felt like a boundary was crossed. Does it feel like you might have been cheating by spending so much time and energy on someone else? This is a real thing called emotional infidelity.

What Is Emotional Infidelity?

Emotional infidelity describes relationships that break the boundaries of exclusive relationships but are not sexual or physical.

But how do you know if you are having an emotional affair or forming a meaningful, important friendship? What is the difference between casually flirting with someone and having some fun or cheating on your partner? To find out how to identify emotional infidelity and to know when it's a problem, what causes it, and how to address it, we turned to psychotherapist Matt Lundquist.

Meet the Expert

Matt Lundquist is a psychotherapist in New York City who specializes in couples counseling and relationships.

“As a couples therapist I'm a strong proponent of people in a relationship having meaningful, close relationships outside of marriage,” says Lundquist. “Couples need to talk openly about what features of those outside relationships are okay and continually examine those boundaries.”

How Common Is Emotional Infidelity

This question is tricky since even therapists tend to define emotional infidelity differently. "Emotional infidelity is a relatively new concept,” said Lundquist. “There is very real concern among therapists and others that the term is applied too broadly, often maligning healthy friendships, particularly those with the opposite sex, or the same sex for same-sex dating individuals.”

Some couples might define emotional infidelity as having a crush on someone else, even if it isn't acted on, while others might say it's only sustained, intimate communication with another person. Do people have to meet in person to have an emotional affair, or is direct messaging one another over Instagram a cause for concern?

There are a lot of outstanding questions about emotional infidelity, but the fact that therapists are talking about the concept and trying to identify it means it’s pretty common. One internet study concluded almost 80 percent of men and over 90 percent of women admitted to having an emotional affair at one point in their marriage. If you are going through this, you are far from alone.

How to Identify Emotional Infidelity

Overall, said Lundquist, emotional infidelity is defined as, “relationships that break the boundaries of marriage or other monogamous love relationships but that don’t become, or at least initially are not, sexual.” But partners must determine for themselves what it means to break a boundary in their relationship. One person might not mind if their partner flirts over Facebook with someone but never meets up with them, while another person may find that extremely hurtful and call it cheating.

Here are some questions to ask yourself or your partner to help identify emotional infidelity:

  • Am I getting my romantic needs met with someone else? Even if touching isn't involved, if you are sexting with someone or getting aroused from your conversation, that can be a warning sign.
  • Am I concealing my relationship? If you are engaged in a new friendship that you can't talk about with your spouse or partner (or you don't feel comfortable revealing the extent of it) something is probably not quite right.
  • Do I turn to someone else for emotional support? Do you feel more comfortable talking to your male coworker about your problems than your husband? Do you find yourself confiding in someone who isn't your spouse over and over again?
  • Am I neglecting my partner's emotional or physical needs? If you are putting someone else over your long-term partner, if you would rather sext with a guy than have sex with your husband, that is a sign that you are engaged in emotional infidelity.

If you are channeling so much emotional, physical, or psychological energy into a relationship with someone else that your partner feels neglected, it's time to really analyze the nature of that relationship.

What Causes Emotional Infidelity

Like physical or sexual affairs emotional infidelity can be caused by a variety of reasons. Here are a few common causes.

Unmet Needs

If your needs aren't being met by your partner, you might look elsewhere to fulfill them. Maybe your partner is especially busy at work or is exhausted taking care of little kids and can't give you the attention you desire? Or maybe you married someone serious and scheduled, and you are craving some fun and carefree adventures? Many people crave novelty, which of course a long-term partner cannot provide.

Insular Marriages

Lundquist sees emotional infidelity occur when people don’t have meaningful relationships outside of their marriage. “Too often emotional affairs are a consequence of constructing marriage and family that are far too cut off from rich social connections outside of marriage,” he said. “Couples that actively work to build friendships with neighbors and within communities are less likely to see problematic relationships emerge in secret.”

Seeking Revenge

In some situations, a spouse may engage in an emotional affair as a way of getting back at their partner or dealing with unaddressed anger or issues. It’s a form of acting out, but in a way that might seem less serious than cheating physically. Also if someone is feeling distant from their partner they might seek closeness to others.

How to Address an Emotional Affair

Lundquist believes the best way to deal with an emotional affair is to prevent it before it even starts. You can do that by paying attention when you start feeling distant from your partner or upset that a need isn't met. Instead of burying it, or pretending there isn’t a problem, talk to your person about it. It is a daunting task, but it is a lot easier than rebuilding trust after an emotional affair. “Much of my advice with regard to addressing emotional infidelity is in the realm of prevention,” he said. “Couples always go through periods of closeness and not being so close. The answer is noting and responding when the distance emerges, so it can be dealt with directly.”

If you've engaged in emotional infidelity, be honest about what transpired. Don't pretend it wasn't a big deal because nothing physical occurred. Emotional affairs can be just as intimate if not more than physical ones. While it is important to talk about the affair and what happened during it, what is even more vital is for couples to figure out the underlying causes that led to it. “Often couples dealing with affairs, including the emotional kind, want to talk about the affair, the hurt, and the aftermath,” said Lundquist. “What’s needed in good couples therapy is to address what’s happened to the marriage itself—how has the marriage failed to meet everyone’s needs?”

If you're having a hard time talking about the situation or if you are getting nowhere, look for professional help to guide you along the journey. “Seek professional help when you’re stuck,” said Lundquist. “Infidelity of any kind is an indication that something is broken in the relationship. So, too, for emotional affairs.”

There was a question earlier today about someone getting in touch with an ex she cheated on, and the general consensus was that the men would never want to hear from her again.

Would this also be the case for someone who cheated on you emotionally (e.g. hung out with another man for prolonged periods, developing an intimate connection, flirting and/or cuddling) but not physically?

Cuddling seems like physical cheating to me.

Cuddling in my heart I consider OK. Like President Jimmy Carter.

I think it depends on how insecure the man is.

Being very insecure, the thought of my girl flirting and/or cuddling with another man makes something in my chest just sink.

something in my chest just sinks.

Exactly how I would have described it if I'd had the words to do it. I know exactly that feeling. Just didn't know how to articulate it.

I am not insecure and I've felt that feeling. I wouldn't worry about it being a confidence thing. Its just a really shitty justifiable feeling.

Cuddling is physical so hell no to that.

I don't know, it depends on what happened exactly. I think it's okay for a little harmless flirting, but if I start to feel like you would rather be with this other person it's going to be an issue. Would I hold a grudge forever? No, but I likely wouldn't stay in the relationship either.

So, I found this to be extremely interesting and I'm curious about your arrangement with your wife. It sounds like this is something you're not happy about, but you permit? Or is it something you've come to accept but don't condone? And in that case, what do you put up with it?

· 9 yr. ago

The line of what constitutes emotional cheating vs. friendship is rather hazy, so I'd forgive my SO if she did what I would consider emotional cheating, but she wouldn't.

If she consciously decided to do it, it shows a lack of respect for me and our relationship, so no, I wouldn't forgive someone in that circumstance.

I am in this situation now and it sucks. If we break up then no I don't think I would ever want to hear from her again.

Every situation is different but in my personal one the conscious aspect it the one that hurts the most. The lying and the complete lack of respect for me.

Any kind of cheating is still cheating. I do not forgive cheaters.

Would this also be the case for someone who cheated on you emotionally (e.g. hung out with another man for prolonged periods, developing an intimate connection, flirting and/or cuddling) but not physically?

Cuddling isn't physical? I think I've been doing it wrong then.

Anyway, it's not as bad as actually having sex (edit: I'm assuming something pretty serious for emotional cheating, not just "h[anging] out with another man for prolonged periods") but it shows a clear lack of respect for me as a person and as a partner. If there's one rule as a guy for interacting with women it's to not show a lack of self-respect. I wouldn't respect myself forgiving cheating and she couldn't either.

Psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD, defines emotional cheating as “betraying your partner by investing emotional energy into another person from whom you are getting gratification and emotional intimacy.” Still not sure about it? Keep reading to further clarify whether emotional cheating counts as traditional cheating, why people do it in the first place, signs to look out for, and how to overcome it if it happens to your relationship.

What is emotional cheating, and does it count as infidelity?

Short answer? Yes—according to Dr. Saltz, at least. “Most people would be every bit as devastated by their partner feeling attached to and highly emotionally involved with another person,” she says, comparing the situation to physical cheating. The main component of emotional cheating, she adds, is secrecy. So, a good litmus test for whether a relationship might be veering into emotional cheating territory is to ask yourself if you’re keeping it mum out of fear of hurting your partner. Because if so, that means, at least on some level, you feel there’s something worth hiding in the first place.

“Most people would be every bit as devastated by their partner feeling attached to and highly emotionally involved with another person.” —Gail Saltz, MD

Want a second opinion? Licensed psychologist Heather Z. Lyons, PhD, believes the answer to what is emotional cheating is up to the couple’s discretion. “A couple needs to decide what feels like an affair to them and work to define the boundaries of their relationship,” she says. “This needs to be explicit, because they can’t read each other’s mind.”

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Cheating is always a controversial topic. Now more than ever, we’re living in a society where relationships are allowed to exist more fluidly, where we don’t have one very traditional – and sometimes limiting – structure to follow.

Although this is an incredibly freeing element of our developing society that is becoming less restricted by rules and more focused on individual choice, it also encourages us to question the ‘traditional’ structure of the monogamous relationship.

Cheating is pretty universally defined by a lack of trust. Showing an interest in someone else that isn’t your partner; if you hide it it’s considered cheating. Cheating means different things to different people, especially today, with so many different platforms and ways of connecting with people intimately.

A new global study reveals some interesting data around cheating, with the results showing men are more likely to forgive an affair than women. The research, from extramarital dating site Ashley Madison, showed 86% of men said they would forgive a partner for straying, whereas 82% of females would do the same.

In the study, 85% of females admitted they had already been forgiven for infidelity, whereas the number of men who had been forgiven was lower at 80%.

Interestingly, the type of cheating that the two genders struggle with are different. Men are more likely to forgive emotional cheating but no physical cheating, while women are more likely to forgive physical cheating, but not emotional.

Emotional cheating can be best defined as checking out of a relationship emotionally, without being upfront about this to your partner. Although liking someone’s Instagram photo might not be done with any agenda, it can feel dishonest and create tension and fear in a relationship.

Physical cheating is slightly simpler. It can be defined as any physically intimate act, done with someone who isn’t your partner, without them knowing. This could be intimate touching, kissing, having sex and basically anything that happens in the lead up to sex.

“We recently collaborated with Dr. Alicia Walker from Missouri State University who’s released research detailing male vs. female cheating habits,” Ashley Madison’s chief strategy officer Paul Keable, told The Latch.

“After speaking with nearly 100 Ashley Madison members, she uncovered two very interesting findings: While men largely turn to infidelity for emotional validation, women do so for sexual satisfaction.

“Many married people find over time that the familiarity and routine of their relationship with their spouse leaves them unfulfilled in some areas. According to Dr. Walker’s research, men feel unworthy when their wives neglect to ask about their day, show them affection, or praise their sexual performance. So, they seek an outside partner to boost their ego. Women, on the other hand, feel emotionally stable in their marriage but are either not having sex or not having orgasms.”

Basically, men are more willing to forgive emotional cheating, however, a deeper emotional connection, affection and emotional attention is often the reason they cheat. Comparatively, women are less likely to forgive physical cheating, but they usually go looking outside of their relationship for physical reasons.

The data seems to work against us. We’re less inclined to forgive the type of cheating we’re more likely to do.

“ These behaviours may be indicative of how men and women would then feel if they discovered an affair. Men may be more understanding of emotional infidelity because they can relate to the unfulfillment that would lead to that,” explained Keable, offering a new perspective.

“A physical affair could be something they struggle to reconcile. For women who widely feel emotionally sound within their marriage, a discovered emotional affair may not be as forgivable as a physical one.”

It’s okay to not get everything you need from one person. In long term relationships, we often find ourselves feeling ebbs and flows of connectivity with our partner. Perhaps it’s only fair to be more accepting of our differing needs outside a relationship and to have those difficult conversations before looking outside the relationship in secret, to avoid breaking trust.

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Many people probably have a working idea about what constitutes physical cheating within their relationships. Most couples, both monogamous and non-monogamous, are hopefully aligned on those boundaries. But emotional cheating can stir up some controversy. If there hasn’t been any physical contact, is it cheating? What separates emotional cheating from really close friendships? And, more importantly, is it possible for couples to come back from emotional indiscretions? There aren’t easy answers, but if you’re dealing with emotional cheating, there are ways to address it and move forward. We talked to Robert Allan, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., assistant professor of couple and family therapy at the University of Colorado, Denver, about what emotional cheating is, why it tends to happen, how you might recognize signs in your behavior, and how to move forward.

So, what exactly is emotional cheating?

As the name implies, emotional cheating often involves nonsexual intimacy with someone who isn’t your partner. If you’ve gotten relatively close with a coworker and you find yourself secretly texting them while thinking, I hope this person doesn’t tell my partner, there’s a chance you’ve ventured from platonic friendship into emotional cheating, Dr. Allan explains.

That might make it sound like you’re not allowed to share secrets or emotional intimacy with your friends because it’s automatically emotional cheating, but that’s of course not the case. Having a network of emotional support is healthy, and a significant other probably shouldn’t be your sole source of emotional well-being, TBH. Emotional cheating isn’t really about the action—sharing emotional closeness with people besides your partner, which is often a great thing—and instead about your emotions surrounding it, like hoping your partner doesn’t find out.

This nuance is why the term emotional cheating might not be the clearest or most neutral way to describe the phenomena in your actual relationship. If, for instance, you think of emotional intimacy as a form of infidelity and your partner thinks cheating is only physical, a phrase that includes cheating might not help you convey how you’re feeling or help them understand exactly how and why they hurt you. That’s not to say you can’t still call it emotional cheating if that’s the language that feels true to you, but it’s important to keep in mind how differently people can interpret the word cheating.

“The term that I use in my work is attachment injury,” Dr. Allan explains, adding that this term involves situations where one partner violates the expectations of the other. Instead of getting hung up on which types of behaviors constitute cheating, the term reframes the conversation to deal with how one partner’s actions impact another. “[When dealing with an attachment injury] there's a sense that the relationship has been violated in some way, and there is hurt,” Dr. Allan adds.

Sometimes attachment injuries are accidental, but that doesn’t mean they don’t damage relationships. Ultimately, whether you call it emotional cheating or an attachment injury, every partner in your relationship should define what crosses this boundary for them and agree on the terms, so you can (hopefully) avoid attachment injuries like these.

Here’s how to know if you are emotionally cheating.

If you feel like your partner is having an emotional affair, it’s often best to discuss your concerns with them directly. (More on that in a bit.) But if you think you might be having one, ask yourself: How transparent am I with my partner about this other relationship?

It bears repeating: It’s healthy to have emotional support from people outside of your partner, but secrecy has implications for your romantic partnership. If you find yourself sneaking to get support and intimacy outside of your relationship, then you might not feel the need to exercise that muscle with your partner, Dr. Allan says. “And it could impact not only emotional intimacy but physical intimacy as well.”

Additionally, you might ask yourself whether there’s any underlying attraction in your friendship that’s sparking questions about emotional cheating. Though physical attraction to people besides your partner is natural, it might be a sign that your friendship is less platonic than you think.

Why does someone start emotional cheating?

“There is no one reason,” Dr. Allan says. In fact, there are many factors and situations that might cause someone to seek emotional support outside of their relationship, and in many cases it’s reasonable to do so. Generally, one partner might experience some difficulty trying to express their emotional needs within their relationship, or they might be with someone unable (or unwilling) to meet their expectations in this realm, Dr. Allan explains. This doesn’t mean that the other partner is necessarily at fault or caused the transgression—in a healthy partnership, there are lots of ways that a partner might try to get certain emotional needs met within the relationship before venturing outside of it in a way that feels like emotional cheating.

Yes, you can try to address emotional cheating and move forward.

First, if you’re the one who did the emotional cheating, you might be wondering if you should even tell your partner. This can be especially true if you’ve sworn to yourself that you’ll stop the emotional affair or have actually already put an end to it. You might be anxious about your partner’s reaction or even convinced they wouldn’t want to know. While it’s up to you to decide whether or not to disclose that information, Dr. Allan says that revealing it can help you “ensure the foundation in your relationship is one of trust and honesty.”

Once it’s out in the open, no matter who had an emotional affair, the first step is to decide whether you both want to stay in the relationship. If your partner cheated, you might ask yourself questions about whether you’re willing to do the work required to forgive your partner. If you cheated, you might explore why you went outside of the relationship to meet your needs. Ultimately, no matter who had the indiscretion, both people need to determine if this is the relationship they want to be in, Dr. Allan explains.

Provided you’ve both decided to try and work things out, the best way to begin the healing process is to communicate about what happened, Dr. Allan explains. Unsurprisingly, this can get really, really tricky. The person who did the emotional cheating might want to assuage their guilt by sharing every single detail, while their partner might find the particulars far too painful. On the flip side, one partner might ask for all of the specifics about the emotional cheating, only to realize it makes forgiveness that much harder. There’s no universal answer for how to handle this—it’s up to you and your partner to figure out what feels right. But if you’re committed to figuring it out together, that’s a great foundation for healing.

I have been cheated on—emotionally and physically. After I found out, I felt empty, like I had entered a void I could never fill. I felt not whole enough, not good enough. He ruined everything.

I have cheated on someone—emotionally, not physically. I felt alone—lonelier in the relationship than I had ever been when I was single. I looked to another man for friendship, for laughter, for comfort, for everything I didn't realize I was missing. I ruined everything.

Wikipedia defines emotional affairs as, "A relationship between a person and someone other than (their) spouse (or lover) that has an impact on the level of intimacy, emotional distance, and overall dynamic balance in the marriage. The role of an affair is to create emotional distance in the marriage." That sounds about right to me. How do you define it?

Basically, emotional cheating involves expending emotional energy on someone other than your partner, to the point where it feels a little dangerous or wrong. This isn't to say that you can't make friends outside of your relationship. However, if you've struck up a close friendship that you're keeping secret from your partner, or you find yourself always thinking or fantasizing about the other person, you might be crossing a line.

A lot of emotional affairs start off innocently enough—often at work—and many of them are conducted entirely online. Although not what it was intended for, social media seems to be all but built to support emotional cheating and casual flirtation. How many people do you know who have exchanged flirty Facebook messages with someone that they would not want their boyfriend/husband to know about?

Lonely, bored, or neglected in relationships, we can reach out into the ether and talk to an ex, coworker, or any number of people we encounter online. There's an element of fantasy to it—we take what we see, and what they say, and fill in the rest with our imagination. Everything gets washed in a dreamlike watercolor as we enhance our idea of who that person is. Life starts to feel exciting again.

As someone who has been on both sides of the cheater's wall, I can tell you: don't do it. It will likely lead to a breakup, and maybe that's what you wanted, but it's not the right way to get there. Even if the person you're cheating with, or want to be cheating with, is your soulmate: Have the awkward conversation with your partner instead. Break up instead. Fight it out instead. Tell the truth instead. But many people don't, or won't, or can't—because cheating, like all escapist wiles, is easier than facing hard relationship facts.

Cheating is not only an option for the faint of heart, it's also an entire industry now. There are companies dedicated to making cheating as easy and headache-free as selecting a Slurpee flavor at 7-Eleven. One of those sites, Victoria Milan, surveyed 5,000 of their members to find out how they felt about sexual versus emotional affairs.

Women, it seems, are less forgiving about emotional affairs than men are. Sixty-nine percent of women said emotional affairs were worse than sexual affairs, while 72 percent of men said sexual affairs were the baser of the two.

The survey also found that 76 percent of women would forgive their partner for a strictly sexual affair, compared with only 35 percent of men.

Finally, the gents were more forgiving than women for nonsexual cheating, with 80 percent of men claiming they would forgive an emotional affair and only 30 percent of women pardoning emotional straying.

In the end, no one wins with emotional or physical affairs, really. The cheater and the cheated-on are both left feeling terrible—and they both still have to deal with their original relationship problems on top of the new problems the cheating has caused.

I've been in "going down the tubes" relationships and I get why people do the emotional cheating thing, but like pajamas in public, it's a definite don't.

Talk to me. Would you be more upset if your guy cheated on you emotionally or had a physical fling with no connection to the person?

Carla Ciccone is a writer who loves pasta, Bruce Springsteen and oversharing on Twitter.

What is cheating? Is it still cheating if it never becomes physical? Is there such thing as emotional cheating? The answer is yes.

Emotional cheating is real and happens way more often than people realize. This article will teach you what emotional cheating is, how to know if you are emotionally cheating or your spouse is emotionally cheating on you, and what to do about it. I’m also going to tell you how you can access a free guide to understanding more about emotional cheating.

How would you define emotional cheating? Have you been emotionally cheated on by your spouse? And how did you handle it?

What Is Emotional Cheating?

First, let’s define what cheating is. I was asked this in a podcast interview the other day, and the answer I gave was as follows. The best definition that I can provide of infidelity is when a person gains fulfillment physically or emotionally from someone who is not their spouse. That’s a baseline and is not entirely accurate as people gain emotional satisfaction from many other things, such as friends, children, and co-workers. And, of course, those things wouldn’t be classified as infidelity.

However, there’s an additional layer when a person gains some fulfillment physically or emotionally from someone who is not their spouse. They feel the need to hide interactions from their spouse and look to that other person to fulfill needs that are supposed to be fulfilled by their spouse, especially if that person is someone of the opposite sex. So what is emotional cheating?

When a married person looks to another most of the time, someone of the opposite sex, to fulfill an emotional need, that is emotional cheating. Going to someone else instead of their spouse and being unwilling to give up that relationship is emotional cheating. At the bottom of it, emotional cheating is when you look to someone other than your spouse to fulfill you in areas that only your spouse should fulfill you.

It’s okay to have best friends. You need those people in your life to have fun with and to vent to in certain moments. What is not okay is beginning to develop an emotional connection with someone of the opposite sex. The kind of relationship where you start to feel that this person understands you in a way that your spouse doesn’t, makes you feel better about yourself, and you continue to want to be around them.

When someone is evoking emotions that you enjoy feeling at a high intensity and a high frequency, it’s probably emotional cheating. So here are some things to consider.

Consider This

First, think about the person in your life that you feel emotionally connected with other than your spouse. Have you ever felt the need to cut down on the amount of time you spend with this person?

Have you ever felt annoyed at people talking about how much time you spend with or speak to this person?

Or have you ever felt bad or guilty about how much time you spent with this person?

Do you feel like you need to talk to this person first thing in the morning? Or when something terrible happens, do you view them as an eye-opener?

If you answered yes to even two or more of those questions, you are probably emotionally cheating on your spouse. Many times affairs begin this way. The emotional connection leads to developing what the social sciences call limerence. I don’t have time to cover all of this in this video. Still, you have to watch our video, Married But In Love With Someone Else , to further understand limerence. Do not miss that if you are emotionally involved with another person or think your spouse is.

How to forgive emotional cheating

Victims of infidelity can feel like being on an emotional roller coaster. Most couples caught up in the tragedy of an affair tell me that they’ve never felt such intense emotions.

For instance, many betrayed partners ruminate about the infidelity and ask, “How could my partner do this to me?” or “I have so much anger and resentment that it scares me. I can never trust them again.”

On the other hand, the wayward partner often says, “I used to beg my partner for more attention and I get that from my lover. I’m not sure my spouse will ever trust me again, no matter what I do to prove myself.”

Learning to trust again

Learning to trust again after betrayal is a slow process and extremely challenging. That said, there is reason to be hopeful under certain conditions. However, both partners must first accept that they each have work to do to recover from the pain.

In “The Science of Trust” Dr. John Gottman explains that restoring trust is an action rather than a belief. It’s more about what your partner does than what they say. According to Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, author of “Healing from Infidelity,” and Dr. Gottman, both partners must follow certain crucial steps to get past mistrust and resentment after betrayal.

The Tasks of the Betrayer

The unfaithful partner must:

  • Be honest, use full disclosure about the affair, and find a way to atone or express remorse
  • Deal with the traumatic feelings after the discovery and be willing to ask and answer questions
  • Must end the affair
  • Be willing to apologize for cheating in a sincere way and promise not to repeat it

Additionally, if you are the betrayer, you must focus on transparency and restoring your partner’s faith in you. This might range from daily check-ins to reassuring them by saying things like “I love you and I won’t cheat again. I don’t want to lose you.”

If you are a betrayer, ask yourself: what can I do to restore my partner’s trust? This might mean apologizing often or giving details about the betrayal. Most of all, you must demonstrate empathy by saying things like “I get it. I understand why you would feel this way. If I were in your position, I would struggle as well.”

The Tasks of the Betrayed Partner

The partner who is betrayed must remember to be kind to themselves, especially when they’re having a bad day and ruminating about their partner’s infidelity. For instance, you could be cleaning out your closet and see the shirt that you wore when you found out about the betrayal and suddenly go into a tailspin. During these times, try to remember that recovering from the trauma of betrayal takes time and it’s fraught with inevitable ups and downs.

Also, the betrayed partner should:

  • Express your feelings to your spouse, but be sure to avoid accusations. Try to use “I” messages such as, “I feel deeply hurt by your actions and I’m not sure I can ever trust you again.”
  • Avoid rehashing all of the events around the affair. Marathon talk sessions about it may deepen the wounds.
  • Find a way to forgive or at least accept their partner’s actions and work towards forgiveness.

Lastly, remember that whatever you think or feel after experiencing your partner’s infidelity is normal, according to Weiner-Davis. She says, “In some ways finding out about infidelity feels like learning about the death of a loved one. You are in shock. And you are grieving the loss of the dream you treasured of a loving marriage to a faithful partner. The lies, the deceit, the betrayal, all go a long way to destroy trust and hope.”

Tasks for Both Partners

  • Both partners need to talk about intense feelings respectfully without blame, judgment, criticism, and contempt.
  • Partners need to find a way to connect emotionally and sexually or attach by risking more physical intimacy. Dr. Gottman explains, “Without the presence of sexual intimacy, that is pleasurable to both, the relationship can’t begin again.”
  • They also need to be more attuned and to spend regular time together. This includes rituals of connection such as daily walks or eating meals without screens.

Ways to Move Ahead with Self-Compassion

Many of the spouses that I’ve talked to who have endured the trauma of infidelity have benefitted from a self-care routine that is consistent and soothing. Everyone’s ideas about this are different but usually include taking care of your body and some form of mindfulness practice such as meditation or yoga.

Further, recovering from an affair always takes the expertise of a trained therapist and a willingness to express hurt feelings in a safe setting that can facilitate healing. Find a specialist trained in the Gottman Method near you.

Has your relationship experienced a sexual or emotional affair? The Gottman Institute is currently seeking couples for an international study on affair recovery. For more information, please click here.