Everyone defines emotional cheating differently. Is grabbing a drink one-on-one with an attractive coworker okay? How about exchanging witty text messages through the night? Does kissing count as cheating or only sex?
Whatever breaks your trust, the pain can make you feel like you’re the only one in the world. However, up to 60% of all marriages face some form of cheating during the relationship. Infidelity is as complicated as relationships are, and lots gets lost in translation.
How can you tell if your partner is emotionally cheating without asking them outright?
Frequent Flirting and “Flirtationships”
Some people think flirting is as innocent as telling a joke or working a crowd, like it’s a social skill or personality trait. It builds our confidence and feels like a dance. Some people are okay with the occasional flirt while others see it as a leaky faucet slowly rusting away intimacy and trust from the outside-in.
However, flirting with the same person over and over again can introduce a sense of intimacy. Leaning into the dynamic can spark new conversations and soon, emotions can stir up. These “flirtationships” can be gateways to emotional infidelity. Especially if your partner engages with them more than you, in turn affecting your relationship with them.
Consider opening a serious conversation about their behavior. Avoid accusations, as some people can be naturally flirty and don’t realize it. Approach the subject with curiosity for their behavior, but be true to yourself and honest about your feelings.
Disclosing Personal Information
Most of us don’t open up to the barista around the corner or the clerk at the grocery store. We save our most sensitive stories for the people close to us, such as lovers, friends, family, and therapists.
If you find out that your partner spilled the beans on your personal details to someone they’re close to but you’re not, it can be a form of emotional cheating. Trust is the bedrock of healthy love. When your partner invites others in to have a say in your relationship, or more specifically, your private details, it can be unsettling. You may no longer feel safe expressing yourself around them, stunting the growth of the relationship.
Some of us prefer to process our lives with others. Our partners aren’t the only ones that help us through daily problems. However, disregarding clear boundaries of, “This stays between us,” and “Please don’t tell anyone, but—” isn’t okay.
Finding emotional intimacy outside of a relationship can sometimes segue into sexual intimacy. It’s important to reconfigure boundaries with your partner if this occurs.
Unexplained Secrecy and Distance
We’re all entitled to our privacy. However, most relationships can feel a shift in our partner’s preference for privacy when something deeper is going on. Staying out later with little explanation, acting sensitive and possessive over their phone, turning screens away when you walk by—these can all be signs of emotional infidelity.
Some partners project their own guilt onto you by criticizing things with which they had no problems before. Pointing out your shortcomings can be a way to ease their conscience — if you’re bad enough, they’re entitled to their behavior.
New crushes also have a way of blinding us to a person’s inherent complexity. Despite knowing your story front-to-back, their new obsession with a shiny, new person can warp their view of you. This makes the crush seem easygoing and perfect and you suddenly seem problematic.
Facing the Truth
Confronting infidelity is hard, but bouncing back from it is possible. (If both parties want to.) Therapists can help you figure out the best ways to:
- Be honest about your feelings.
- Ask direct questions to your partner.
- Address underlying problems that contributed to emotional cheating.
- Define and communicate new boundaries.
Consider working with an individual or couples counselor if you’re worried about emotional cheating, because you don’t deserve to cheat in love. You deserve to win. Reach out to learn more about couples therapy.