Physical Vs. Emotional Infidelity: How We Determine Which Is Forgiven And Which Is Forgotten

by Rina Magsombol

Do you find yourself daydreaming about the new associate at work, who sits two cubicles away from you?

While out with your boyfriend, do you think about his chiseled jawline and his skinny tie?

If so, you are playing with fire.

Generally, physical infidelity is highly unacceptable in romantic relationships — unless, of course, you and your partner are swingers. Having a physical affair is inexcusable and a common reason why couples fall apart. However, emotional infidelity is common in relationships, as well.

But how do we know where lines are drawn? Which act of deceit hurts more? Is one more forgivable than another?

When asked, several men and women — who range in status between married, dating and single — all had interesting responses to offer.

Where are lines drawn?

Many attribute physical affairs to sexual and lustful intent, and emotions are not usually involved. The act in question can be anything from holding hands to cuddling to sexting. It appears “bases” don’t even have to be crossed to commit adultery.

“Obvious lines begin at kissing, groping and climax in a sexual interaction,” 29-year-old University of South Florida graduate Thomas Pritchard said. “However, I draw the line even if you 'sext' another person you’re not emotionally involved with. You are communicating sexual descriptions to another person.”

It’s controversial. Holding hands, cuddling and sexting may just be flirtation to some, but others, like Pritchard, take physical cheating very seriously. Others, who have more leniencies in their relationships, say that physical affairs can ignite differently.

“Physical infidelity all depends on each individual,” 28-year-old California resident Brian Hansen said. "My lines are drawn anywhere where another individual’s body part enters another’s, whether it is tongue, mouth or downstairs.”

While holding hands and having sex are discernible offenses, emotional affairs can be judged and scaled subjectively. Some say emotional betrayal can manifest when you and another cross the line of friends or colleagues; sharing inside jokes and deep conversations with another person may launch an emotional affair.

“Emotional infidelity is the development of a relationship through feelings and thoughts,” recently single Ian Kennedy said. “If you cannot tell your partner you text a friend, coworker, etc., then this is an immediate sign you’re doing something wrong.”

Which one hurts more?

Both acts of deception provoke pain and the loss of trust, but they can deliver different degrees of suffering. Most people who were asked said emotional infidelity was more hurtful.

Usually, unlike with physical affairs, emotional cheating carries a deeper connection between the two cheaters. When a person has been emotionally unfaithful, the couple can either end their relationship or move on from it to become better people, avoid repeated mistakes and find forgiveness.

Happily married Erin Viator, who was betrayed by a past love both physically and emotionally, recalls her experiences:

“It felt like my heart was ripped out, stomped on and thrown to the wolves to eat. The lines ‘I can’t eat. I can’t sleep’ are true. I lost 10 pounds, was stressed and had to deal with epigastric pain for one month. I cried until my eyes couldn’t cry anymore. I felt like I was mourning the death of a person I once knew,” she said.

Evidently, emotional betrayal inflicts greater damage beyond just the relationship, as it significantly impacts the person cheated on. In addition, more is at stake, like the foundation you two built together.

Although more people said emotional infidelity hurts more, those who believed physical infidelity hurts more stated valid points. Those who believed physical cheating led to a more painful effect said that it is an act that should be easily avoided. Engaging in physical affairs can be avoided with self-control (by choice).

Emotional affairs derive from feelings that many people cannot avoid due to human nature. Cheating on your partner emotionally leaves room for discussion: How did we get here and what can we do to move on from this?

This leaves zero excuses for having an unemotional physical affair. As humans, we cannot avoid to whom we are physically attracted, but we can steer way from finding ourselves in a Motel 6, alone with someone with whom we shouldn’t be.

Physical infidelity brings more disappointment. It’s instantaneous. It’s sleazy. It can’t be undone. Rebuttals like “I was drunk” and “He/she came onto me” can only go so far.

The act of committing it could have been avoided beforehand. Of course, attraction is unavoidable. What you do with that attraction or arousal is up to you.

A hot and steamy one-night stand at a work conference can instantly crush the emotional foundation of your relationship. Seems pretty unworthy, if you ask me.

What do we get from this?

We discovered that the initial intent for cheating, whether sexual attraction or emotional (regardless if it’s by a mobile device, social media site or in person) can bring immense pain and distrust between two people. Neither is encouraged, but as humans, we can learn from it.

If it feels wrong – or if you know it will hurt your partner — don’t do it!

If you’re constantly thinking about someone else, especially when you’re with your partner, accept the fact that the person is more than just eye-candy. Communicate with your partner and try to repair what’s been broken, then rediscover what was lost. Perhaps, you’re lonely, bored and your lover at home has become too comfortable.

You will be more respected if you escape these temptations and use your head -- and not the one in your pants, guys.

Photo via We Heart It