It's important to recognize emotional infidelity

An emotional affair can be just as devastating as a physical one.

We typically characterize infidelity by scandal, betrayal and duplicity. Images of cheap motel rooms and grimy bars stick to the forefront of our minds. However, infidelity isn't just physical. It's not simply passion and lust. Infidelity that is exclusively emotional can be even more damaging to a relationship than a physical affair.

Sexual infidelity is glamorized and romanticized in the media. Films flash scenes filled with frenzies of desire and lust. However, emotional infidelity is rarely acknowledged, and it’s difficult to define and understand. Many question why someone would cheat with no sexual reward.

Emotional affairs are becoming increasingly common as social media connects us more and more. We talk to our exes, old crushes and potential new love interests. It can be difficult to determine where to draw the line. 

“In working with couples, the definition of infidelity varies depending on how each couple defines limits and boundaries external to their intimate relationship,” said Dr. Karissa Greving Mehall, clinical assistant professor at ASU’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. “Most couples express that it becomes infidelity when the relationship boundary has been violated in some way and a connection has occurred — either emotionally, physically or both — with another person.”

There’s a fine line between friendship and infidelity. Because it’s completely OK to confide in someone other than your partner, it can be difficult to tell whether the relationship constitutes as infidelity. A solid sign of emotional infidelity is that it takes energy from your current relationship and creates feelings of shame.

Since the definition of an emotional affair is so complex, it is easier for someone in a relationship to hide and deny the affair, and it is much less recognized as actual infidelity.

Emotional infidelity is particularly traumatic to the relationship because sometimes the person in an affair had no expectation of physical reward. The excuse of "it was just sex, and it meant nothing" can't be used because the affair was not purely physical — it was an emotional bond.

Emotional affairs can be hugely damaging to a partner’s self image. Many victims of emotional affairs feel guilt and begin to take the blame for their partner’s infidelity.

Even if the affair ends and the partners choose to continue to work on their relationship, the victim of the affair will still feel insecure and hesitant to trust.

The relationship will suffer from resentment, anger and feelings of betrayal often on both ends.

There is a greater breach of trust in an emotional affair in contrast to a solely physical affair. This is because the most intimate part of the relationship has been violated by putting one's trust into another person.

We need to begin acknowledging emotional affairs. The more we educate ourselves, the better we can identify and address them. In turn people can feel more compelled to confide in their partner rather than someone else.

 For individuals to heal within their relationships and themselves, we need to develop a better understanding of the real damage emotional affairs cause.  


Reach the columnist at sljorda4@asu.edu or follow @skyjordan44 on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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