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Emotional Infidelity: 5 Relationship Tips to Help You Deal

What’s the difference between emotional and physical infidelity?

Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock
Source: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock

I recently appeared on a national TV show to discuss cheating on Facebook. A question came up as to the difference between emotional and physical infidelity.

In emotional infidelity, a partner gives another person their heart, their intimate thoughts, their caring, and appreciation. Often they fantasize about that person sexually, but do not actually have sex with their “friend.”

What are common triggers of emotional infidelity?

Emotional infidelity often starts with when a relationship has lost its passion and is headed for the reef. The partners have settled into dull, auto-pilot interactions, have little or no sex, nag or criticize constantly, and rarely create enjoyable times when they are together. Under these conditions, one of the partners may begin confiding to a colleague at work or a confidante online about relationship issues.

It’s common for these complaints to include putting down the partner and blaming them for what’s gone wrong. Often, the biggest criticisms are that the partner doesn’t understand, listen, or pay attention. Emotional cheating can then progress to a point where the friend who is listening or paying attention is idealized and fantasized about.

With online cheating it is even easier to fantasize about how great the “friend” is, to flirt and to share information about yourself that you are afraid to share with your spouse. As the secret relationship heats up, emotional cheating can lead to physical infidelity.

What is the fallout of this type of affair, both for men and women?

Men whose partners cheat emotionally often find it less devastating, because they are more likely to view love as a sexual connection rather than an emotional one. Women will find it more so, because for them love is all about relating.

But emotional infidelity is a bad marker for a couple’s chances of making it. Research has shown that 80 percent of people who divorce say it is due to a lack of closeness and intimacy, that is, they grew apart. If a couple has lost that loving connection, and one spouse finds it with someone else—it could be a death knell for the relationship. In one study, cyber-cheating was seen as just as serious a threat to a marriage as a sexual affair.

Sometimes unwarranted jealousy can lead to emotional infidelity. Go here to learn how to turn jealousy around before you alienate your partner.

What are some warning signs of emotional infidelity?

Work relationships, online flirting on websites and dating apps, connecting on social networks, and talking to ex-lovers on Facebook may or may not be cheating relationships.

Six key factors that will help you determine whether or not a relationship is emotional cheating:

1. You complain about your partner to your “friend” and feel like they understand and appreciate you much more than your partner does.

2. You feel less connected to your partner than you do to your “friend.”

3. You think about, fantasize, and have sexual feelings for your “friend.”

4. You share more about yourself with your “friend” than with your partner.

5. You would rather be with your “friend” than with your partner.

6. Your significant other is not aware of the feelings you have about your “friend.”

What relationship advice can you give on dealing with emotional infidelity?

Here are five relationship tips you can do right now to begin healing your relationship:

1. Recognize that emotional infidelity may be a serious threat to the marriage or relationship.

2. The emotional cheater needs to distance or break away from the person they are involved with in order to “right the boat” of their own relationship. Just as they would be required to do if there was physical infidelity.

3. Discuss problems in your relationship with your partner or a therapist rather than a “friend.”

4. Rekindle intimacy and friendship in your relationship. Get to know each other all over again. Go for long walk-and-talks together. Have listening sessions where one talks while the other listens with full attention.

5. Act like you are having an affair with your significant other. Take time to go out on dates and have sexy encounters when you are fresh and attentive with your partner.

More from Diana Kirschner Ph.D.
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