Emotional Infidelity: Fact or Fiction?

In the era where if someone doesn’t answer their phone, we have the option to text them, e-mail them, Facebook them or even Tweet at them, communication has definitely become a little complicated. While most of us can recite countless benefits of all these various channels, we often pay little attention to the detriment that technology and online communication can have on our romantic relationships.

While the obvious pitfall of technological communication is misunderstandings and misinterpretations, an even bigger pitfall is emotional infidelity. According to Dr. Dale Atkins, emotional infidelity or emotional cheating is “about forming meaningful attachments with people other than your partner in ways that prevent your partner from having that deep emotional intimacy with you.”

How Does this Happen?

Relationships often become vulnerable to this type of infidelity when one partner feels misunderstood or unappreciated. Often, when one partner’s needs are not being met in the relationship, he/she will go outside of it. As we spend more time at work and online, these become our primary outlets. Facebook, blogs, Twitter and other social media serve to connect people and often do so on the basis of common interests. However, the lack of face-to-face and physical contact may serve as a factor in blurring boundaries of what is and isn’t appropriate.

For example: Sharing my relationship dissatisfactions with another male creates a bond with that person. This makes it less likely that I will share my concerns with my partner, as I am getting the desired connection outside of my relationship.

**Tip: sharing with someone who could be a potential alternative partner makes it easier to cross the threshold

Online relationships can take on a life of their own, different from physical affairs. We have account and security settings, passwords and personal privacy etiquette that aids in creating private relationships and exchanges.

Is it Really Infidelity if it’s Not Physical?

Some of you may be struggling with the word infidelity, as cheating is typically characterized by a physical relationship. While a physical relationship is a much clearer indication of blurred or absent boundaries than inappropriate online exchanges, there still remains a level of deceptiveness. According to Shirley P. Glass, author of NOT “Just Friends,” secrets and withholding information creates barriers or “walls” in the relationship where one partner is sharing outside the relationship, resulting in them being emotionally unavailable to their partner.

How to Safeguard Against Emotional Infidelity

  1. Create Windows

Glass says, one way to safeguard against this is to think of having a window between you and your partner where you are open with each other, allowing you to share and know each other in intimate ways. Having that window allows you and your partner to talk about expectations, privacy and trust, as every person views these topics differently.

  1. No Leftovers

Try not to give your partner your “leftovers,” or the exhausted and drained version of yourself. While we are all spent by the end of their day, make an effort to invigorate your relationships through sharing, conversations and intimacy.

  1. Stay Aware!

If you find you are hiding or deleting messages and exchanges, this is a sign that you are probably doing something inappropriate. On the flip side, if you find you have the urge to check your partner’s phone, e-mail etc then it may be a good idea to address where the feelings of uneasiness or distrust stem from.

Tools for Couples:

NOT “Just Friends” Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity by Shirley P. Glass, PhD.

–       Includes two quizzes: a) has your relationship become an emotional affair, b) Is your online friendship too friendly?

Emotional Infidelity: How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage and 10 Other Secrets to a Great Relationship by M. Gary Neuman

10 Rules for Avoiding Emotional Intimacy

When friendship becomes an emotional affair

– Includes “red lights” to detect whether you are an emotional cheater

6 Comments on “Emotional Infidelity: Fact or Fiction?

  1. This was a good article. I think over the years there are things that happen that allow emotional infidelity to be easier. When men and women first starting working together, the advent of phones, the internet, texting, facebook, and it goes on and on. In the future there may be robots likes Siri that we will have emotional relationships with. It sound easy to blame facebook but we should really be blaming ourselves. While these technologies make it easier to be emotionally unfaithful, they are not the cause. It comes down to the two people. What their relationship is and isn’t. Is each communicating what they need and are they getting it.

    • Yes, this was exactly the point! Emotional infidelity exists with or without technology, yet the idea was that things like Facebook, texting, BBM, etc. simply make it easier to develop inappropriate behavior or loose boundaries due to the privacy of such communication. Technology is NOT to blame, people have to take responsibility for what they say and do and the consequences of those actions. At the end of the day there are many avenues that can ease our way into emotional infidelity. However, it all boils down to the relationship and what is driving someone to go OUTSIDE of it to get their needs met. Sounds easy, but this can often be quite difficult for people to directly express their needs, wants & hopes for the relationship to their partner for many reasons (fear of rejection, trouble expressing yourself, etc). Yet, if those things aren’t communicated, their partner may never be aware of their hopes and expectations. Thanks for your comment!

  2. A couple comments about this post… I do agree that emotional infidelity is cheating and I think it is almost worse than physical cheating. The connection you create with your partner (predominantly emotional disclosure) gets de-valued and somewhat broken once you or your partner decide to begin forming that bond with someone else. Forget that your partner might be inappropriately hitting on or complimenting someone else in a sexual manner — probably NOT sharing that he or she is currently IN a relationship, the fact is that once that partner opens himself/herself up to emotional vulnerability thru sharing with a “stranger,” this partner no longer feels the need or IMPORTANCE to communicate with the current partner.

    I think it is very sad that people are too scared or possibly too lazy to communicate with their partners. There is a fine line with emotional cheating that a lot of people fail to recognize. I also think that the main cause of emotional infidelity is “insecurity.” External validation might boost a partner’s self esteem temporarily, but this security has to come from within FIRST and FOREMOST. A person needs to work on himself/herself & being emotionally, physically confident before they can fully commit to another person… if not, they are more likely to go start some online affair to get their egos boosted. Why wouldn’t they do it online… especially if they think their partner will never find out.

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