Emotional Cheating Is Just As Bad As Physical Cheating, & Here’s Why

by Cosmo Luce

Unless you are in an open and polyamorous relationship, emotional cheating is just as bad as physical cheating. The signs of an emotional affair might be less visible than holding hands with, kissing, or having sex with someone who isn't your partner, but the impact is equally damaging. Intimate conversations that take place outside of a relationship still involve a degree of treachery, and it might be impossible to heal mistrust once it takes a foothold in your relationship. In fact, according to research, an emotional affair might be even more hurtful than one that's just about sex.

Before talking in-depth about why cheating emotionally is just as bad — if not worse — than a physical affair, let's talk about what qualifies as an emotional affair in the first place. "If either party feels disconnected and unfulfilled emotionally, the person who goes outside the marriage to fill the void is having an emotional affair," Amber Turner, the founder of Deluxe Matchmaking in Colorado, told Elite Daily. According to Turner, deep down, the person who is doing the cheating knows that what they are doing is wrong. The act that they are committing is not something they would do in front of their partner, because otherwise, they would feel like they had nothing to hide.

That is what makes an emotional affair equally as hurtful as a physical affair: They both involve a breach of trust and secrecy. And Dr. Martha Tara Lee, a clinical sexologist (DHS, MA, BA) and founder of Eros Coaching, told Elite Daily this is often the worst part: "Most people are more disturbed by the breaking of trust and the intimacy in the 'rival' relationship, than whether there is sex involved."

When somebody in a monogamous, non-polyamorous, committed relationship feels a need to have intimate conversations with somebody behind their partner's back, it is a breach of the terms of the relationship. Sex is not the only form of intimacy. Even if the emotional cheater never touches the person they have feelings for, they still have feelings for someone outside of their relationship. And those feelings might be even harder to stop than sex.

Sex is not the only form of intimacy. Even if the emotional cheater never touches the person they have feelings for, they still have feelings for someone else who is outside of their relationship.

A relationship is not just about the sexual bond you have with somebody. If it was, then we would end up dating every single person we have sex with. And after a little bit of dating around, you'll quickly learn that you can have great physical chemistry with somebody for whom you feel nothing emotionally. A relationship is about your mind and your heart as much as it's about the sex. It's the mind and the heart that are even harder to fulfill than the sexual element, too. You don't find someone you deeply connect with for love to happen every day.

If you are in a monogamous relationship, the sanctity of that connection needs to be respected. "If you are married to or exclusively dating someone then you should fully expect that verbal, physical or emotional intimacy is exclusive to you and that person. End of discussion," said Chris Armstrong, a certified relationship coach. An affair that is entirely based on emotions is just as painful as a sexual affair because it violates one of the intimate foundations that a relationship is built upon.

From personal experience, I can say that once an emotional relationship has been established outside of a monogamous relationship, it's hard to recover — and easier for the adulterer in the relationship to deny. It's easy to claim that an emotional relationship is "only friendship" or that the person who suspects an affair is happening is "just feeling insecure." My ex-boyfriend completely denied his feelings for someone outside of our relationship. I believed him because I wanted to think he was telling the truth. But a year later, we broke up, and they immediately got together. That's one reason why you should trust your instincts if you think your partner is emotionally cheating. If you think your partner is doing something wrong, then you're probably right.

What hurts in any rival relationship — whether it's an emotional affair or a sexual one — is the breaking of trust that led to one person establishing an intimate relationship with another. Whether or not a person's body is involved doesn't make a difference in how much that betrayal breaks your heart. You're entitled to your pain and are deserving of a partner who won't violate your trust — or, at the very least, who is able to work to heal the damage they did to your partnership.

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