Is It Emotional Cheating? Let’s Set The Record Straight

Unlike full-on physical cheating, emotional cheating seems to depend on a more case by case basis. It’s become this vague notion that isn’t exactly defined, so people often push its boundaries.

They see how far they can go on technicalities because it’s not like they “actually cheating.” Except that’s not how that works, and we’re here to set the record straight.

What Is Emotional Cheating?

woman looking up and thinking
Photo Credit: Tachina Lee / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Tachina Lee / Unsplash

First things first, let’s settle on some kind of universally agreed-upon definition of emotional cheating. Most people can agree that it’s when you have a particularly secretive and sustained relationship with someone who isn’t your partner, in a way that you know would hurt your partner if they found out.

The best way to tell is if your relationship with that other person is getting stronger while your relationship with your partner gets weaker.

How Do You Do It?

woman texting on her phone at a table
Photo Credit: Kev Costello / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Kev Costello / Unsplash

You don’t have to make out with them to be emotionally cheating. Rather, it means that you purposely cultivate the relationship and connection with someone, whether in a romantic way or not, in a way that you have to hide because you know it would hurt your partner.

This includes but is not limited to flirting, texting them at odd hours, or spending too much time with them. We’re about to cover them.

Why It Happens

woman puts her hand on her cheek and leans
Photo Credit: Marco Testi / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Marco Testi / Unsplash

Before you blame yourself, your partner emotionally cheating almost never has anything to do with you. Although the decision itself is conscious, the lead-up to it is small, cumulative, and could even be well-intentioned. Often, it’s an unconscious slip or test of boundaries.

Also, people don’t always cheat just because they’re trying to fill a void. Sometimes they’re simply craving some excitement and novelty to feel alive. This means that there’s a chance for you to do that together and save your relationship.

They Tell Them Things They Don’t Tell Their Partner

woman whispering in man's ear over coffee
Photo Credit: Ba Tik / Pexels
Photo Credit: Ba Tik / Pexels

While it’s okay to look for support outside of your relationship, you shouldn’t feel like you trust and feel more comfortable with someone who you’re not dating. You shouldn’t be keeping secrets from a partner out of fear and then divulging them to someone else.

The secrecy will only create a bond with the other person while creating distrust with your partner.

They’re More Irritable After They Get Home

man arguing with woman in a kitchen
Photo Credit: Alex Green / Pexels
Photo Credit: Alex Green / Pexels

Often, irritability is just a mask for other feelings. In this case, it’s a mask for guilt. If they come home in a good mood and then get irritable at the sight of you, it could indicate that they’re frustrated with themselves. They’re feeling guilty that they were just with someone else who made them feel or want things they shouldn’t.

They Randomly Start Accusing You

man pointing a finger
Photo Credit: Rodolpho Zanardo / Pexels
Photo Credit: Rodolpho Zanardo / Pexels

Don’t be surprised to find them projecting their own anxiety onto you. If they’re starting to think about someone else, they might accuse you of doing it instead. It’s like they’re secretly getting mad at themselves and looking for a way out.

They Defend The Friend You Keep Arguing About

man and woman look upset sitting at restaurant table
Photo Credit: Cotton Bro / Pexels
Photo Credit: Cotton Bro / Pexels

If there’s a particular “friend” that causes tension and fights, it can start to feel like someone’s third-wheeling the relationship.

They won’t try to understand your reasons, and you won’t find a resolution. Instead, they’ll keep defending their special friend and blame you for being jealous.

You Start To Feel Like You Come Second

man arguing with woman on the floor
Photo Credit: Anthony Tran / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Anthony Tran / Unsplash

Suddenly, this friend they have just desperately needs them all the time, and they can’t say no. It’s like their friend has no one else in the world but them.

Even if you had plans first, they find a million reasons why they need to abandon and turn their attention elsewhere.

Their Phone Is Constantly Buzzing

man texting on his phone while walking outdoors
Photo Credit: Hannah Busing / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Hannah Busing / Unsplash

Even the best of friends don’t need to be in communication every second of the day. You keep feeling like they’re only half-listening because they’re so absorbed in a never-ending conversation.

Even if that conversation is innocent, that is still time they’re spending bonding with someone while ignoring you.

Your Gut Is Bringing Out The Worst In You

man texting on his phone while in bed
Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

If you suspect your partner is giving their attention to someone else, it can do a great deal to your self-esteem. Usually, your gut will sense it first and send you warning signs.

It might trigger thoughts in you that release resentment, anger, and jealousy towards your partner and make you act different than yourself. Remember that a loving partner helps you build your worth, not feel it less.

Your Relationship Is Declining For No Apparent Reason

couple sits on bed looking sad
Photo Credit: Thiszun / Pexels
Photo Credit: Thiszun / Pexels

You didn’t think anything was going wrong, but almost overnight, you feel like they’re being distant and resistant. You almost feel like a chore to them, and when you ask them about it, they get defensive and can’t give you a proper reason why.

The issue might be that the decline actually has nothing to do with you.

They Compare You To Someone Else

couple sitting on the couch looking sad
Photo Credit: Cottonbro / Pexels
Photo Credit: Cottonbro / Pexels

Watch out if they start comparing you to one person specifically. This might be a reflection of their eternal conflict of wanting pieces out of both of you.

They might be thinking that if they can change you to be a little more like that other person, then all your problems would magically disappear.

They Think They’re Being Subtle About Hiding Their Phone

man texting in darkness at home
Photo Credit: Eddy Billard / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Eddy Billard / Unsplash

They don’t think you notice that every time they go to check their phone, they tilt it slightly so you can’t see the screen. Or that every time it rings they refuse to answer it in your presence.

If this behavior is new, it’s usually a warning sign.

They Start Changing Their Appearance

man in a suit smirking at the camera
Photo Credit: Nojan Namdar / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Nojan Namdar / Unsplash

This is not just a sign of physical cheating but emotional too. If your partner suddenly is interested in working out more, dressing better, or wearing a shirt they haven’t put on in six months, it could be that they want to look good in front of someone else.

They’re Not Interested In Being Intimate

couple in bed embracing while laying in bed
Photo Credit: Becca Tapert / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Becca Tapert / Unsplash

Suddenly, the same person who used to beg you before bed to have a little fun is snoring before you even make it under the blanket. They keep rejecting your efforts or finding excuses to not be intimate with you. Then when it finally happens, it feels like they’re only physically there but their mind is checked out.

You Can’t Tell What They’re Thinking

man playing guitar while woman looks at him with coffe in her hand
Photo Credit: Toa Heftiba / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Toa Heftiba / Unsplash

You’ve noticed that they confide in you less and less. Even when they had big news, you weren’t the first person they called. You can no longer read the person you thought you knew like the back of your hand.

Their lack of communication is causing you to be confused about what’s bothering them, or even what’s getting them excited during the day.

They Stopped Trying To Resolve Any Of Your Issues

couple looks sad at the beach
Photo Credit: Carly Rae Hobbins / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Carly Rae Hobbins / Unsplash

No relationship is perfect. You are aware of your issues and thought they were a work in progress. Suddenly, you feel like you’re the only one putting in the effort on the issues you’ve previously discussed.

They won’t even let you bring them up anymore, and when you do, you feel like they just tell you what you want to hear.

They’re Suddenly Looking For Attention

man on his profile on laptop and phone
Photo Credit: Austin Distel / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Austin Distel / Unsplash

Suddenly, the same person who hasn’t shared a photo on Instagram in nine months takes an interest in social media.

Some studies have found that attention-seeking behaviors like posting more about themselves are common signs of a need for validation and attention because they’re not getting it in the relationship.

They Switch Up Their Routine

man drinking coffee by the window
Photo Credit: Abolfazl Shaker / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Abolfazl Shaker / Unsplash

They have been going to work, then the gym, then coming home to cook dinner for years, yet suddenly they spend more hours adding random stops and doing things in a different order.

This might be their way of expressing that they’re feeling stuck and need a change but are looking for it in the wrong places.

Rather Than Argue With Them, Engage With Them

holding hands over the table
Photo Credit: Taylor Hernandez / unsplash
Photo Credit: Taylor Hernandez / unsplash

Your first instinct when you suspect emotional cheating might be to lash out or play detective. We’re telling you that’ll just make things worse.

Instead, try engaging them in conversations in which they feel like they can be honest rather than defensive. Tell them about your observations and expectations, and ask them curiously if they’re happy in your relationship.