- “Emotional cheating” can happen if you deceive or betray your partner in a non-physical sense.
- It’s characterized by small yet intimate actions, like confiding in a close work friend about your relationship or spending most of your free time with them even though you have a partner.
- “You’re allowed to have your own friends, but there’s a difference between secrecy and privacy,” psychotherapist Tammy Nelson told INSIDER. “If you lie, there is something else going on.”
- Here are 8 ways to tell if you’re an emotional cheater.
Cheating isn’t always a physical act. You can actually cheat on your partner in an emotional sense too, which typically happens through small yet intimate actions and a lack of transparency about those actions with your partner.
“[Emotional cheating] is characterized by these kind of microcheating behaviors that could lead to more intense sexual behaviors,” Tammy Nelson, PhD, a psychotherapist and independent consultant for Ashley Madison told INSIDER.
These behaviors might include confiding in someone other than your partner about your relationship, or choosing to spend the majority of your free time hanging out or texting with a person who you aren’t actually dating.
“When you are emotionally cheating, it is all about the emotional connection … It is about crossing lines and sharing things that would make your partner uncomfortable (including talking about them in a negative way),” psychologist Nicole Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC, told Bustle.
In the moment, you may not even realize you’re emotionally cheating, but there are some signs that can help you decide if you’re guilty.
You can’t stop talking about your best friend at work — especially to your partner.
It’s normal to come home after a long day at the office and want to catch up with your partner, but if the bulk of your conversation is fixated on your “work spouse,” the term Nelson uses to refer to an emotional cheating partner, it could mean you’re a little too invested in that relationship.
Spending the majority of your day with a co-worker can often result in a close bond, but if you notice you’re spending most of your energy on that relationship, it could mean you need to re-evaluate your priorities.
You vent to your co-worker more than your partner.
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Although it can feel easier to be open and honest with a new person, those conversations and support should come from the person you committed to in the first place.
Many people fall into this behavior, Nelson said. “We take more risks with people we don’t know that well,” she said. “It’s like trying on new clothes, trying on different parts of ourselves before we go home [to our partners].”
Those feelings of emotional freedom can lead to a physical affair too, according to Nelson.
You make up excuses to hang out with your co-worker more.
It’s fine to enjoy time with people other than your partner, but if you jump through hoops to buy yourself more time with a certain someone, it could mean you’re betraying your partner in an emotional sense.
“You’re allowed to have your own friends, but there’s a difference between secrecy and privacy,” Nelson said.
Constantly justifying why you’re spending time with a person who isn’t your partner or minimizing your closeness to them could mean you shouldn’t be doing so in the first place.
You lie to your partner about your whereabouts.
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According to Nelson, some people might stop justifying meet-ups with a work spouse or emotional cheating partner at a certain point. Instead of getting defensive, they’ll lie about where they are.
“If your partner knows you’re constantly with Joe after work and they don’t like that and tell you, it’s easy to just start saying you’re actually with Sarah when you get home and they ask wher you’ve been,” Nelson said.
You hide text messages, phone calls, or emails from your partner.
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Like lying, hiding your correspondence with another person suggests you’re emotionally cheating. That’s because keeping certain messages private suggests they contain intimate material, which is typically reserved for your actual partner.
“Text messaging provides an opportunity for wandering hearts, hearts not fully committed to their spouses, to seek pleasure from someone other than their spouses when their relationship grass may be losing its color,” Zack Carter, PhD, a professor of interpersonal, intrapersonal, and family communication, wrote for Psychology Today.
You don’t prioritize your existing relationship.
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While it’s important that couples have their own individual lives, if you notice you’re purposely filling up your calendar with activities that don’t involve your partner, it could mean you’re not emotionally invested in your connection.
Pushing back date nights, constantly working late nights at work, or saying you’re already busy every time your partner wants to spend time with you could suggest they’re an afterthought in your life.
You constantly pick fights with your partner.
All couples fight from time to time, but if you catch yourself trying to start arguments or insult your partner more often than you have positive experiences with them, it could mean you’re emotionally cheating.
Insulting your partner or fighting about little things often happens when a person compares the relationship they have with the person they’re emotionally cheating with to their actual relationship, marriage counselor and infidelity specialist Lisa Ryan told Livestrong.
You feel guilty.
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Perhaps the most straightforward sign of emotional cheating is feeling guilty. If you have fleeting moments where you are unsure you should be spending so much intimate time and energy on one specific person, it probably means you shouldn’t, Nelson said.