Esther Moriarty, 25.08.2016

Think your partner is having an emotional affair? What exactly is emotional cheating?

Which would be worse: if your partner slept with – or fell in love with – someone else? We tend to view cheating as merely physical, and focus on sexual activity, but there is much more to infidelity than just physical contact. An emotional affair can be just as hurtful if not more so than sexual infidelity.

In an EliteSingles survey of 667 members, we examined relationship faithfulness, and found a major difference in how men and women view cheating.1 We discovered that whilst 65% of men think sexual infidelity is worse, women can’t bear the thought of their partner falling in love with someone else: 55% think an emotional affair would be harder to handle.

Our findings mirror those of a study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior which examined upset over sexual versus emotional jealousy among 63,894 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual participants.2 They were asked if they would be more hurt by their partners having sex with someone else (but not falling in love with them) or their partners falling in love with someone else (but not having sex with them). Consistent with our EliteSingles survey results, heterosexual men were more likely than heterosexual women to be upset by sexual infidelity (54% vs. 35%) and less likely than heterosexual women to be upset by emotional infidelity (46% vs. 65%).

In order to understand why people have emotional affairs, we asked EliteSingles psychologist, Salama Marine, for her insight and advice on the topic.

What is an emotional affair?

An emotional affair is a feeling intimacy, closeness, familiarity and attachment to someone who is not your partner. If you start to talk about things to this person that you’re not talking about with your partner, you are necessarily building a strong connection with … the wrong person.

Why do people have emotional affairs?

When people are emotionally cheating on their partner it’s often because they need to fill a void in their current relationship. They begin to build an intimacy with someone else which they feel they have lost with their partner. They fantasize about what life would be like with the other person and start to feel a sense of security with them by sharing their secret ideas, thoughts and feelings – building the foundation of an emotional relationship. Couples tend to not share their deep thoughts with each other over the years together as their relationship becomes more of a routine. Deep talks are replaced by daily chatter, “Did you buy bread?” or “Don’t forget to clean the bathroom.”

But, this is unhealthy for the relationship as men and women still need to feel emotionally connected to someone. This is why they might start to idealizing the emotional connection they have with a colleague or friend because the bond they fantasize about will be compared to void in their current relationship.

READ MORE: Understanding Infidelity - Our in-depth analysis on why people cheat

How can I do if I am emotionally cheating on my partner?

As soon as you feel like you getting involved in an emotional affair, ask yourself why you can’t open up to your partner? Why are you turning to someone else? Then you will be able to see what is wrong in your relationship and you can start to make amends to build a stronger connection with your partner.

What is the difference between emotionally cheating and having a platonic friendship?

Many people maintain these kind of ‘affairs’ and they call them ‘friendships’, without thinking that they are doing something wrong. If you feel the need to hide the friendship from your partner, for example hiding text messages, then you are emotionally cheating and you’ll need to ask yourself what is wrong in your relationship.

READ MORE: Get the lowdon on how to move on after a break-up

Can an emotional affair damage a relationship?

Healthy and happy relationships are based on trust and communication. So, if someone prefers to go outside of the relationship to open up about their life, it means that there is something is not working properly between the couple. It doesn’t mean that there is no longer love in the relationship, but if you spend less time communicating with your partner and give your focus to another emotional relationship, love can disappear over time.

READ MORE: Salama's advice on how to build trust in your relationship

Can you rebuild your relationship after you or your partner has had an emotional affair?

If your emotional affair becomes the primary source of intimacy, you may feel that you are no longer in love with your partner. Whilst while men and women may not always be on the same page, with men seeing sexual infidelity worse than falling in love with someone else, in our survey 20% of both men and women were prepared to forgive and forget if their partner were unfaithful.

So, if you suspect that either you or your partner are having an emotional affair, you can try to recreate a deep connection with your partner based on trust and good communication and you can start to feel connected to each other again.

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