Emotional Infidelity


By Michele Bacigalupo

Photo by David Goehring.

It’s an ongoing challenge for people to remain loyal to their romantic partners. A couple in a committed relationship faces any number of obstacles in a given day in order to keep each other happy. Realistically, attraction fades as time goes on, and sex becomes part of the routine.

In today’s world, a multitude of platforms are available on the internet for people to share their deepest thoughts and feelings. Social media grants people endless outlets to vent about any subject that passes through their minds, including daily trivialities and romantic relationships. The confession of the latter is not without consequences.

Besides the obvious supply of pornography available online, there are websites that promise to find you a date, a mistress, or someone simply willing to talk to you and listen.

“Access, anonymity, and affordability have escalated in the digital age,” Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S, co-author of Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Parenting, Work, and Relationships, tells BTR.

Personal intimacy can often have very little to do with sex. What starts out as an innocent email or text message may spark the beginning of an emotionally adulterous relationship. When you feel the need to defend a friendship to your significant other or yourself, it is safe to say that you are emotionally cheating. By engaging in a conversation unbeknownst to your partner, and keeping the exchange a secret, you instantly become culpable.

Photo by Harsh Agrawal.

The subject matter of the conversation in question is irrelevant. It may deal with the cheater’s significant other, or it may not mention him. The backbone of emotional cheating exists in the lies and secrets kept from one’s partner.

Emotional infidelity is an issue that is often ignored or receives little attention, despite all the damage it causes. What begins as a supposedly platonic outing to get coffee may be accompanied by all the heart-fluttering excitement of a crush. Continuing to speak to this new person, to meet up with him, or even just exchange messages ignites the flood of neurochemistry in the brain associated with adultery. When exposed to a new stimulus, the brain generates large quantities of dopamine, the same chemical that is released when cocaine enters the system.

In some ways, an emotional affair is more complex than one that involves sex. The playbook for a physical affair is more easily defined. It’s been portrayed in so many movies that there’s a clear understanding of what should occur. The act should take place somewhere outside the home, preferably in a motel.

An emotional affair, however, will often take place from the comfort of one’s laptop. It may be as accessible as communicating with an ex via Facebook. The act of emotional adultery contains all the elements of deception and betrayal that accompany a physical affair.

The trust in a relationship is broken the moment that one person begins lying to the other. This is when the cheating begins. There are several telltale signs that a partner is cheating, or that you are the one guilty of infidelity.

When questioned about coming home late or forgetting to call, the cheater will become unresponsive. He will become defensive. He will display a lack of empathy for his partner’s feelings, and disregard their view of the situation. He will turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to all accusations, and insist that he has done nothing wrong.

When entangled in an emotional affair, you become hypersensitive when communicating with the other person. You may end up reading over a message before sending it, and then reading it again after sending, as well as the prior message, and possibly the whole conversation. You notice how much time passes before a reply is received.

Once you have plans to meet up with this person, you select an outfit with ulterior intentions. You dress to look as sexy and seductive as possible, while preparing an excuse for the extravagant getup in your head. You can lie to somebody else, but the increased heart pounding and rush of endorphins make it impossible for you to lie to yourself.

Both men and women are equally capable of being unfaithful to their partners. However, they each respond to infidelity in distinctive ways. In the midst of cheating, men are more likely to rationalize their actions. Men will emotionally cheat on their partners, but they are more apt to write it off as a mere slip of the send button. Women, on the other hand, instinctively seek strong emotional connections, and are therefore at a greater risk of falling in love while involved in an affair.

When you discover that your partner is cheating, it rattles your thinking, and changes your perception of your partner. It’s challenging to confront the guilty party, and even more difficult to obtain a confession.

“A cheater denies your reality,” explains Weiss.

The defense mechanism is called gaslighting. The cheater will attest to being overwhelmed at work in ways the partner can’t understand, and insist he didn’t have time to call home and say he would be late. The scenario creates a sense of self-doubt for the victim.

“Trust has been betrayed, and that’s a form of trauma,” says Weiss. The healing process requires “reliable and consistent behavior over time. You have to earn trust back.”

The relationship will never be the same, but there is the possibility of recovery. After the appropriate actions are taken, the relationship may even end up stronger than before. A successful relationship is dependent on honest and open communication.

“People have to be upfront from the get-go about who they really are, not who that person wants them to be,” says Weiss.

For the sake of preventing acts of infidelity, try reaching out to your partner when you begin to feel emotionally distant. An honest conversation will accomplish a great deal more than writing a cryptic status on the internet.