Image Credit: HBO

Yes, Emotional Cheating Still Counts As Having An Affair

When we see depictions of cheating on TV, it’s always a dramatic scene with a betrayed lover throwing open the door to find their partner in bed with someone else. But cheating isn’t always so black-and-white — and sometimes it has nothing to do with anything physical.

Every couple has its set of rules and boundaries that work for them. Not all monogamous couples have the same rules, and the same can be said about polyamorous couples too. There are potential situations in any kind of relationship where one partner can break the trust of the other. When we talk about monogamous relationships specifically, doing any sort of physically intimate activity with another person is usually considered cheating. It gets a little more complicated when someone is emotionally cheating.

Emotional cheating is definitely harder to define than the ordinary you-touched-someone-else type of cheating. “It’s clear what side of the line you are on when touch is involved,” NYC-based relationship therapist Stephanie Manes (LCSW) tells Betches. “It can be much harder to gauge where you are when we are talking about cheating of the mind and heart.” So, what is emotional cheating?

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Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Is Emotional Cheating Real? 

If you’re looking for a definition of emotional cheating, it’s essentially sharing an ongoing intimacy with someone other than your partner, Stephanie says. “It exceeds what you share with platonic friends, or that is coupled with a fantasy of taking it further physically or romantically.” 

Some people believe that emotional cheating isn’t real, but Stephanie argues that affairs aren’t limited to just having sex outside of the partnership — they include any kind of exchanged intimacy.

“They are about feelings of love and/or desire and sharing parts of yourself that would normally be reserved for your mate,” she says. “Certainly, the betrayal a partner feels when they find out about the relationship is very real.”

This doesn’t mean you have to reevaluate your relationship with every person in your life. But it does mean you have to think, “Am I acting a certain way around this person that I wouldn’t do in front of my partner?”

And if you really aren’t sure if something more than platonic is going on with you and another person outside of your relationship, Stephanie gives a breakdown of potential signs of emotional cheating.

You might be emotionally cheating if:

  • You’re totally crushing on this person and daydreaming about being with them if you weren’t already taken
  • This person has dropped the bomb and admitted they have major heart eyes (and even more) for you and you choose to continue the relationship.
  • You and this person dive into serious vent sessions about the drama in your actual relationship.
  • You’re keeping the relationship on the DL, hiding texts and DMs, or even lying to your partner about it.
  • If your partner could watch you two (like a fly on the wall), they would feel betrayed.

How Can A Couple Move Forward After Emotional Cheating?

Finding out you’re getting cheated on fucking sucks — whether it was physical or emotional. It can also be hard to move forward once someone in the relationship feels betrayed. It’s totally understandable if someone wants to break up with someone who emotionally cheated on them. But if both you and your partner want to work on your relationship and move past emotional cheating, it’s going to take some work.

“After addressing the immediate damage this relationship caused, the partners should take the opportunity to look at what might have been happening (or not) between the two of them that might have left them at risk for this sort of thing,” Stephanie says. “That’s not to blame the betrayed partner; the point is to open an honest dialogue about any breakdowns in the relationship and how they could change course.”

Navigating these kinds of convos while being respectful of each other’s feelings and hard truths can be really difficult — so don’t beat yourself up if the talks aren’t going as you planned. Instead, it could be helpful to hire a professional to guide you guys through this tough time.

Syeda Khaula Saad
Syeda Khaula Saad
Syeda Khaula Saad is a sex & dating writer at Betches despite not remembering the last time she was in a relationship. Just take her word for it.