Let’s Talk About Emotional Cheating. Has It Happened to You?

I have been cheated on—emotionally and physically. After I found out, I felt empty, like I had entered a void I could never fill. I felt not whole enough, not good enough. He ruined everything.

I have cheated on someone—emotionally, not physically. I felt alone—lonelier in the relationship than I had ever been when I was single. I looked to another man for friendship, for laughter, for comfort, for everything I didn’t realize I was missing. I ruined everything.

Wikipedia defines emotional affairs as, “A relationship between a person and someone other than (their) spouse (or lover) that has an impact on the level of intimacy, emotional distance, and overall dynamic balance in the marriage. The role of an affair is to create emotional distance in the marriage.” That sounds about right to me. How do youdefine it?

Basically, emotional cheating involves expending emotional energy on someone other than your partner, to the point where it feels a little dangerous or wrong. This isn’t to say that you can’t make friends outside of your relationship. However, if you’ve struck up a close friendship that you’re keeping secret from your partner, or you find yourself always thinking or fantasizing about the other person, you might be crossing a line.

A lot of emotional affairs start off innocently enough—often at work—and many of them are conducted entirely online. Although not what it was intended for, social media seems to be all but built to support emotional cheating and casual flirtation. How many people do you know who have exchanged flirty Facebook messages with someone that they would not want their boyfriend/husband to know about?

Lonely, bored, or neglected in relationships, we can reach out into the ether and talk to an ex, coworker, or any number of people we encounter online. There’s an element of fantasy to it—we take what we see, and what they say, and fill in the rest with our imagination. Everything gets washed in a dreamlike watercolor as we enhance our idea of who that person is. Life starts to feel exciting again.

As someone who has been on both sides of the cheater’s wall, I can tell you: don’t do it. It will likely lead to a breakup, and maybe that’s what you wanted, but it’s not the right way to get there. Even if the person you’re cheating with, or want to be cheating with, is your soulmate: Have the awkward conversation with your partner instead. Break up instead. Fight it out instead. Tell the truth instead. But many people don’t, or won’t, or can’t—because cheating, like all escapist wiles, is easier than facing hard relationship facts.

Cheating is not only an option for the faint of heart, it’s also an entire industry now. There are companies dedicated to making cheating as easy and headache-free as selecting a Slurpee flavor at 7-Eleven. One of those sites, Victoria Milan, surveyed 5,000 of their members to find out how they felt about sexual versus emotional affairs.

Women, it seems, are less forgiving about emotional affairs than men are. Sixty-nine percent of women said emotional affairs were worse than sexual affairs, while 72 percent of men said sexual affairs were the baser of the two.

The survey also found that 76 percent of women would forgive their partner for a strictly sexual affair, compared with only 35 percent of men.

Finally, the gents were more forgiving than women for nonsexual cheating, with 80 percent of men claiming they would forgive an emotional affair and only 30 percent of women pardoning emotional straying.

In the end, no one wins with emotional or physical affairs, really. The cheater and the cheated-on are both left feeling terrible—and they both still have to deal with their original relationship problems on top of the new problems the cheating has caused.

I’ve been in “going down the tubes” relationships and I get why people do the emotional cheating thing, but like pajamas in public, it’s a definite don’t.

Talk to me. Would you be more upset if your guy cheated on you emotionally or had a physical fling with no connection to the person?

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