Emotional Cheating vs. Physical Cheating

Comparing emotional cheating vs. physical cheating
People can debate about emotional cheating vs. physical cheating, but both are equally painful.

Every relationship has its share of mistakes. You can resolve most of them with a heartfelt apology and an honest conversation. The more serious ones require a genuine display of remorse and contrition.

Cheating, however, isn’t something that can be resolved with a simple apology.

Unbeknownst to many, this form of betrayal comes in various forms. Cheating isn’t always physical, and the signs aren’t always obvious to the person being cheated on. Affairs can be opportunistic, commemorative, or conflicted.

This article will focus on the two main forms of cheating: physical and emotional. Here’s a breakdown of emotional cheating vs. physical cheating to help you spot similarities and differences.

Physical Cheating

When people think of cheating, this type usually comes to mind. Going by its name, physical cheating refers to using one’s body to engage in affairs outside of committed relationships.

Cheaters engaging in this affair usually cite a lack of physical intimacy. Is it excusable? No. While a healthy dose of physical intimacy is important, it shouldn’t be a reason to look for it behind a partner’s or spouse’s back.

Physical affairs typically involve physical intimacy, but it doesn’t stop there. Even a kiss or a date falls under this category.

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What are some possible hints that your partner is cheating? These signs may tell you what your partner or spouse has been doing behind your back:

#1: A decrease in affection

Let’s say you and your partner or spouse used to be quite affectionate with one another. However, it feels like things have suddenly changed. They don’t act as loving as they used to.

If they’re becoming cold, take that as a red flag. They may be saving their affections for someone else.

#2: Avoidance of eye contact

Sometimes, a person’s eyes say more things than words. One look can be enough to tell you there’s something off about your partner or spouse. If they’re hiding something from you, they can’t look you in the eye—especially when you ask them if something’s wrong.

#3: Change in grooming habits

This sign may seem shallow. Why take notice of your partner’s grooming habits, yes? However, it is something worth noticing. Sometimes, new people drive others to explore new things.

Emotional Cheating

Now that we’ve covered one-half of this emotional cheating vs. physical cheating comparison, let’s move on to the other.

Woman having an emotional moment
Cheating is not always physical. Emotional affairs happen frequently too.

Does cheating have to be physical? No. Sometimes, crossing a line means building an intimate connection with someone else.

Emotional cheating happens when one actively seeks and establishes a deep emotional connection outside their relationship. In this type, the cheater feels the need to hide this connection from their partner because they know they’re making a mistake.

What counts as emotional cheating? Typical examples include intimate text messages, cheating fantasies, and white lies. Don’t let their seemingly harmless facade fool you.

Signs of Emotional Cheating

Emotional cheating is harder to pinpoint than its physical counterpart because the signs aren’t as obvious. People have different boundaries, and you can’t always draw a line between platonic and romantic actions.

If you’re looking for warning signs, look out for these red flags:

1. You’re not the first person your partner reaches out to

Does your partner frequently turn to someone else instead of you? Are they more enthusiastic around that person? If both things apply, an emotional affair may be brewing. Your partner doesn’t need to tell you everything going on in their lives, but it’s troubling if they constantly confide in another person.

A woman looking at a man who is looking at a phone. A woman looking at a man who is looking at a phone.
2. Your partner frequently compares you to someone else

You know something’s wrong if your partner doesn’t stop comparing you to another person they frequently interact with. Comparisons can come in subtle and explicit forms.

For example, let’s say you and your partner fought over something. They then say they wish you understand him the way a specific work colleague does. If this is a repetitive occurrence, don’t hesitate to voice your suspicions.

Observe how they react to your concerns. If they draw the “they’re just a friend” card, consider that a red flag.

3. Your partner isn’t as invested as they previously were

Is your partner acting differently? Have their affectionate gestures decreased and become ungenuine? Has intimacy gotten colder? Your partner may be less invested than they appear. It seems like they’d rather do something else than exert effort in your relationship.

4. Your partner frequently hides themselves

You know your relationship is in trouble if your partner pulls frequent disappearing acts. More often than not, they’re away from home and with other people. And if they’re with you, they’re either on their phone or in their room.

Shadow of a man giving a woman flowers
Does cheating have to be physical? The existence of emotional cheating says no.

You may not know what’s going on, but their actions make it clear they’re hiding a secret. That secret may be another person.

5. Excuses are getting repetitive

When you try to make time for your partner, they’d always brush you off with excuses, such as busy schedules and prior commitments. If this has become a pattern, chances are, they’re covering up an affair.

The 7 Stages of Emotional Affairs

Emotional affairs vary because they depend on the relationship. However, there are common stages leading up to them. Here’s how each one plays out:

1. Platonic/innocent relationship

Affairs have to start somewhere, right?

Emotional cheating usually springs from platonic relationships. These relationships can come from anywhere, from workplaces to neighborhoods. Emotional cheaters find themselves clicking with someone else and thinking about how they understand them better than their partners do. And with that, they can’t help but feel special and seen.

2. Crossing boundaries

The established dynamic in the first stage leads to this second one. For emotional cheaters, crossing boundaries means fulfilling their emotional needs.

The cheater starts feeling comfortable and shares intimate/personal thoughts and feelings with the third party. And in return, that person shows the same vulnerability.

3. Cribbing

This term may be unfamiliar, but the concept isn’t. Cribbing means non-stop complaining. In the context of cheating, this stage is where the cheater and the third party complain about their partners or spouses. The more frequent the cribbing is, the more fulfilling the cheating becomes.

4. Fixation

As the emotional cheating lingers, the cheater starts noticing traits the third party has that their partner lacks. They may even start picking up habits to please them.

5. Decision-making

At this juncture, the emotional affair has become the primary priority over primary relationships. The cheater makes the affair the main factor of their daily decisions, from commutes to meal times.

6. Dissatisfaction/disillusionment with the primary relationship

For emotional cheaters, their main relationships are the source of disappointment. Whatever they have suddenly pales in comparison to their affair. This dissatisfaction may lead to resentment and burnout.

7. Breakup/separation

Now that the cheater has gone through the six previous stages, they’ve reached the point where they just want to leave their primary relationship. They then start looking for reasons and justifications to get out.

Couple arguing in an alley
Is physical or emotional cheating worse? The reality is both are equally horrible.

Consider this as the point of no return.

Is Physical or Emotional Cheating Worse?

Believe it or not, some people have a debate over these two types.

Some believe physical cheating is the worst offense because the evidence is pretty telling. Imagine being on the receiving end of an affair; the thought of your partner being physical with someone can be enough to break you.

For others, however, emotional affairs are the more crushing blow. They can trigger insecurities because they make you wonder if something is wrong with your personality. Emotional cheating also makes you second-guess yourself, wondering if you’ve done enough for your relationship.

The truth is, there’s no winner in the emotional vs. physical cheating debate. Both are equally devastating acts that break trust. And once that trust breaks, building and earning it back will be difficult.

We hope our emotional cheating vs. physical cheating comparisons will help you tell them apart. While trusting your partner is important, it’s not a bad idea to stay vigilant and watch out for both.

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