You don’t want to overreact, but every time your S.O. mentions the name of his new—and cute—coworker, your heart stops for a moment. But it’s nothing…right? Your guy’s perfectly loyal. You haven’t smelled another woman’s perfume on him or caught him sexting with someone in the middle of the night. He just mentions this cute coworker’s name (a lot), compares you to her (a lot), and spends time with her (a lot).
If that situation sounds like yours, there’s a chance your S.O. could be emotionally cheating on you. Emotional cheating happens when one acts in ways that foster emotional intimacy with someone other than their partner, ultimately causing them to disconnect with their actual partner. In some cases, this emotional intimacy could lead all the way to physical intimacy, and when that happens, dumping you for the other party won’t be far behind.
While emotional cheating remains a fuzzy concept and it’s still best for a couple to define together what counts as cheating for them, licensed marriage and family therapist Melissa Schacter, PhD tells Women’s Health that emotional cheating typically has three components: an emotional connection, secrecy, and an element of eroticism.
Because of the interplay of all three, emotional cheating is much harder to confirm than physical cheating. Since they’re not exactly sleeping together, there’s not a whiff of a woman’s perfume to base your suspicions on, and besides, your S.O. swears they’re just friends! Swear!!!
In this article, we listed signs that could mean your partner’s “platonic friendship” is something more, such as: They’re hanging out with this friend a lot; they don’t open up to you as much as they used to; they’re always on their phone and keeping that phone away from you; and they’re picking fights with you like they’ve already got one foot out the door. To better illustrate, we gathered stories from people who’ve been on either side of the emotional cheating divide, which you can read below.
In the end, only you can figure out whether or not your S.O. is capable of emotional cheating, and if so, whether or not your bond can survive it. As licensed clinical psychologist and relationship expert Seth Meyers, Psy.D. writes in Psychology Today, “The best indicator is to consider the character of your partner and to ask yourself how much you truly trust his or her integrity.”
Whether or not you suspect your partner of having googly eyes for that cute coworker, it’s still best to sit down with him and have that talk about what counts as cheating—emotional or otherwise. You could be saving yourself from a lot of heartbreak down the line.
“One time he called to ask me, ‘What if I fell for someone else?’” –Elsa
“By the time he emotionally cheated, we had already been together for two years. He had just gotten his first job fresh out of college. After a few weeks at his new job, he started complaining of always being tired. He no longer had time for me. The graveyard shift was always his excuse.
“I heard about a female supervisor of his at work who had a reputation for being ‘aggressive’ with the men she worked with. I asked him if she really was what people said she was. To my surprise, he defended her right away. I had a hunch he might be one of the men she was supposedly preying on, but he told me they were just friends. Soon, I saw her tagging him in public photos and statuses. He would always cover it up by saying he was just out with coworkers.
“One time he called to ask me, ‘What if I fell for someone else?’ He heard me sob on the other end of the line. He then did a 180 and said it was just a hypothetical question.
He suddenly disconnected from me on social media platforms.
“Later, he told me he had to take some time off from us because he needed to focus on work. He still assured me that there was no one else and that we would remain friends.
“A few days later, he suddenly disconnected from me on social media platforms. From ‘It's Complicated,’ he updated his relationship status to ‘In a Relationship.’ His female supervisor was his new girlfriend.”
“I would playfully call her ‘boo’ and she would call me ‘sweetie.’” –Kim
“My ex and I had been together for about three years when I met Angela*.
“Angela was in some of my classes in college. We got close because we found each other very nice and sweet. I would playfully call her ‘boo’ and she would call me ‘sweetie.’
My ex voiced out that I should spend time with her instead of being on the phone with Angela until late into the night.
“My ex noticed that I was often working with Angela, since we were partners in three subjects. My ex voiced out that I should spend time with her instead of being on the phone with Angela until late into the night. I kept brushing my ex off; I had schoolwork as my excuse, after all.
“Even after the classes Angela and I had together were done, we made sure that we had classes together in the next semester. If we didn’t have class together on certain days, we would find time to be together and talk about our respective relationships. We would cook for each other or celebrate Valentine’s Day and stuff. At one point, Angela would sing me to sleep.
“We never had a physical relationship, but until today, Angela and I still talk sometimes.”
“He was still expressing his innermost emotions to his ex-girlfriend.” –Charity
“Oliver* and I were on our fourth month together when his grandma died. Because he was a seafarer and on board at that time, I offered all the necessary funeral assistance that I could possibly extend to his family.
Without my knowing, my ex-boyfriend had contacted his ex-girlfriend, Lynn*, to provide financial assistance from their joint bank account. I didn’t know about it until Lynn contacted me to tell me about it herself. She tried to make me feel insecure by sending me screenshots of her emails with Oliver.
“Apart from feeling that my efforts were all undermined, I really felt horribly betrayed, seeing that Oliver was still expressing his innermost emotions to his ex-girlfriend. I tried to discuss the issue with Oliver, but he was grieving at that time, so I chose to just let it pass.
“In the end, we never really resolved the issue because he never earned my trust back.”
“I found out that he was even getting her advice on how to deal with our problems.” –Gin
“When my boyfriend and I were in college, we were busy with our own lives and separate groups of friends. He was friends with a group of girls in their class, and I didn't mind since they all seemed pretty nice. I trusted my boyfriend, too. But later, he confessed he was falling for one of the girls he was close with.
“It happened again on our ninth year together, with a different girl! That time, it was one of his officemates. I found out that he was even getting her advice on how to deal with our problems while we were in the middle of a ‘cool-off.’
My heart feels like it's being squished mercilessly, and I feel like I can't breathe.
“Both incidents happened lifetimes ago, but whenever I remember them, the wounds still sting, my heart feels like it's being squished mercilessly, and I feel like I can't breathe. Ganoon kasakit until now! But I guess what's important is when those things happened, he was honest with me and he never let it get out of hand before telling me. He also made sure to regain my trust and rebuild our relationship after. Of course, I did my part, too, and made up for whatever I lacked: time, effort, and all that. I also keep telling him that if he cheats (as in acts on his emotions), I would leave him—that's my non-negotiable.
“After that second incident, we actually got engaged, got married the year after, and had our amazing baby boy just as the decade ended! So, fingers crossed, it won't happen again!”
“I ended up doing what I suspected her of doing.” –Bert
“We lived together, but this didn't mean we saw much of each other. Eventually, our conversations dwindled, but the sex was intense, more than ever. I didn't mind it, till one night I saw one of her notebooks fall off the side table. Tucked into the leaves was a photo: her ex's. That was when I suspected she was spending a lot of time conversing with him on mobile, and thinking of him when we made love.
“I never brought it up, thinking my suspicion was flimsy. Besides, it seemed we were fine; we were always intimate. But suspecting what I did, I eventually started chatting with others on mobile: It began with an ex, then a coworker, then an old flame. I kept having these conversations, and while I never met up with them, I thought of them constantly during sex with my partner. I ended up doing what I suspected her of doing.
“Eventually, she suspected, too, and she snooped around. I didn't know she knew my mobile password, but she did, and she unlocked my secret. When she confronted me about it, I pulled her notebook out of her drawer, and demanded: “Then tell me what this is.” After lots of crying, we confessed to each other: We drove each other to think of other people when having sex, chatting with them to make imagining more vivid, and we used each other to replicate the feeling in our heads.
“It worked out for a while, but we were on thin ice. Sex was constant, but so was jealousy, and eventually the fights. After months of this, she got pregnant—and we weren't exactly in the best disposition to have a child. So we decided to create better conditions for our coming child—and we did that by splitting up.”
*Names have been changed