There really isn’t enough conversation about emotional cheating in the world of dating. Cheating goes beyond sexual affairs or one-night stands and, to be real, the damage can be just as painful. Rethinking the role of infidelity and how it potentially shows up in relationships will shed some light on the topic. Have you ever felt that you or a partner were a little too emotionally close to another person? Then you might be more familiar with emotional cheating than you realize.

Read on to find out what emotional cheating is, what it’s not, and how to move through it in a relationship.

What is emotional cheating?

Emotional cheating is defined as nonsexual intimacy with another non-romantic partner. According to Mind Body Green Relationships, the main difference between platonic relationships and emotional cheating is a “secretive, sustained closeness with someone who isn’t your primary partner”. As a non-sexual form of cheating, it can be quite tricky to detect let alone name.

In many cases, the partner who is putting energy into an outside bond often dismisses their partner’s hunches or accusations. “They’re just my friend” or “Can’t I connect with people outside of our relationship?” are common statements. Emotional cheating can include someone spending all of their free time with a person outside of the relationship. It may also look like a partner prioritizing another person’s emotional needs over the emotions of their loved one. Sharing secrets with someone else, intentionally creating emotional intimacy, or only relying on the outside person for emotional support are all additional examples of emotional cheating. In this sense, emotional cheating is not micro-cheating as some may think. It can have lasting impacts on the relationship.

In the short-term, emotional cheating ignores relationship boundaries and is confusing. In the long-term, it creates feelings of emotional inadequacy and builds sexual tension with someone outside of the agreed relationship.

Here’s some common signs to look out for:

Emotional cheating and close friendships

Aliyah Moore is a certified sex therapist familiar with the issue of emotional cheating.

“An emotional cheater is someone who channels their emotional energy, time, and attention to someone outside of the relationship. As a result, they spend less time with their partners, leading to feelings of neglect,” she said.

Increased frequency of contact with another person leads to inappropriately deep emotional connections. Seeking comfort and appreciation from someone outside of the relationship in a way that mimics a romantic relationship counts as an emotional affair.

Emotional unavailability

A partner who is uncharacteristically emotionally unavailable may be emotionally cheating. The idea is, if they suddenly close themselves off to you emotionally, they might be opening up elsewhere. The lack of emotional connection creates a distance that shows a glaring lack of reciprocation.


Most times, building a relationship in secret is a tell-tell sign of cheating. It suggests that they have a sense of guilt around the outside relationship. If your person doesn’t want to let you in on the friendship and isn’t truthful about where they’re going, this might be a red flag. This includes hiding texts and guarding information about how they interact with another other person. In a platonic friendship, there would be no need to be extremely protective about friendly interactions.


When your partner tells you that you’re being sensitive or tries to deny your observations about how close they’re getting with the outside person, this is common a sign of emotional cheating.

Can couples recover after emotional cheating?

Emotional cheating is not simply building healthy friendships outside of the relationship. It usually depletes the emotional intimacy or safety in the primary relationship. It may even verge on sexual infidelity. For this reason, it isn’t a neat and easy road back to normalcy once it’s been uncovered in a relationship.

“Cheating is really anything that violates the boundaries of your romantic relationship and results in a breach of trust between its members,” relationship therapist, Jeanae M. Hopgood, explained.

With trust in mind, the first way to move past emotional cheating is by rebuilding or addressing trust issues. Different couples may have different thresholds, and individuals with past triggers surrounding cheating may have extra sensitivities.

Try visiting a relationship therapist to heal any hurt and distrust. This is a great step to take if it aligns with your decisions about the future of the relationship. Look for an expert who understands how complicated recovering from emotional cheating can be. This can provide healthy development.

Some may not feel ready to recommit after experiencing emotional cheating and that’s fine. Get clear on your boundaries and honor them. It’s a valid and necessary part of the process. There is no one way to resolve feelings around disloyalty, take your time and make a decision that makes sense for your emotional well-being.

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