Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Six Signs of Emotional Cheating

Six signs that clients are sharing now.

Chernetskaya /Dreamstime
signs of emotional cheating
Source: Chernetskaya /Dreamstime

Perhaps you are feeling lonely and isolated, even though you are in a relationship or married, or even if you are quarantining with your partner right now. You may feel terribly alone or not cared for.

My coaching team is reporting that despite greater physical proximity with partners, clients are saying that there's been an increase in concerns about emotional cheating. The emotional juice, the attention, the appreciation, and caring are focused on a third person, not on them. This can even happen virtually—via Facebook, texts, emails, shared photos, and other messages. This other person becomes a fantasy of all that is wonderful to the partner.

In this post, we'll examine six signs of emotional cheating that clients are sharing. First, some of the general scenarios we've been hearing about: Your partner may have a “special” close friend, maybe from work, church, your social network, or social media. It seems like there is nothing sexual going on between them. But your partner is so loving, so interested in, so responsive, so eager to see the “special friend,” that it feels like a loss to you. You find yourself feeling left out, jealous, and not wanting them to spend any time together. You may worry about when their next interaction is going to occur. Is there a text message from the friend? A special email? Requests for help?

You may feel like the special friend is getting number-one treatment from your partner, while you are running a distant second. And you may feel hurt, sad, resentful, or angry about the whole matter. These are all signs that your partner may be emotionally cheating, which could tank your whole relationship. Let’s look at these signs in more detail.

1. You Argue a Great Deal with Your Partner About His or Her “Special” Friend. There is ongoing tension and fighting that erupts over and over between the two of you, all focused on the third wheel who seems to be in the middle of your relationship. The fights have no resolution, and no end in sight. Even though you try to explain that the “special” friend is causing a problem between you, your partner can’t quite get it. Instead, your partner may blame you for having jealousy problems.

2. A “Special” Friend is More Important than You. Whenever the third wheel friend calls, emails, or texts, needing a hand with something, does your partner respond and leave you in the lurch? Does he or she turn attention away from you or abandon the projects you are working on together? Does your partner spend a great deal of time in virtual communication with their “special” friend? Do you feel like your needs and wants are not a top priority to your partner? That you are simply not number one? This is a strong sign of the presence of emotional cheating.

3. You Feel Ongoing Anger and/or Jealousy About Your Partner’s Friend. This sign assumes that jealousy is not your typical issue in love relationships, which is a very different problem. If this is not the case, do you have a lot of negative mental chatter or upsetting thoughts about the whole situation that creates suffering? Do these thoughts frequently lead to you feeling resentful, angry, or jealous about this “special” friend being in your lives? These can be signs you’re your partner is having an emotional affair.

4. Not Feeling Good About Yourself. Healthy relationships tend to build up your self-esteem over time. If you find that the reverse is happening—i.e., you are feeling worse about yourself, as if you are not measuring up to the “special” friend, this could be another red flag. Is your confidence going downhill or your feeling of attractiveness waning from lack of attention? Are you second-guessing and doubting yourself more? Your partner may be emotionally cheating.

5. You Ask Your Partner to End the Third-Wheel Relationship and Are Met with Resistance. You screw up your courage and ask for your partner to have less interaction with this person or end the relationship altogether. Your partner either pays lip service to doing it or hides contact with the person and sneaks around behind your back. He or she refuses to end the friendship. This means your relationship may be in serious trouble due to real emotional, and possibly physical cheating.

6. Your Relationship Is Going Downhill. Does it seem like your relationship or marriage is getting more and more distant? Are you fighting more? Having more angry exchanges? Do you have angry times where you freeze each other out and don’t talk? Fights where he or she is totally defensive and blames you for any problems? Is your partner hypercritical of you? Is this negative pattern getting worse over time? These are serious red flags that emotional and possibly physical cheating is going on to such an extent that it may result in a breakup. It is definitely time to work on your relationship so that you do not lose it.

These six signs of emotional cheating can be very telling, especially if you find that most or all of them are operating in your love life. Since so much attention, appreciation, and goodwill are going out of your relationship, it absolutely can lead to a breakup or divorce. You need to take action to help circumnavigate this obstacle and come together in a new way—which can be done.

If you are having these issues, and in particular, your partner refuses to cut back or end his or her “special” relationship and things are truly going downhill, I would highly recommend that you enter couples counseling or coaching with a professional who is seasoned at helping couples navigate emotional cheating. It can begin a journey of coming back together and making your relationship the number-one priority. Weathering the storm of emotional cheating can truly turn things around and help you come into a whole new relationship that is better than ever.

More from Diana Kirschner Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today