Emotional cheating, also known as an emotional affair, represents a different kind of infidelity.
The relationship has not yet reached the point of sexual intimacy, but a deep emotional bond has developed nonetheless.
Although people should have emotionally supportive friendships beyond their romantic partners, emotionally cheating has a secretive element, just like a sexual affair.
The person does not want the spouse or partner to know about the outside relationship because it feels unfaithful.
In fact, emotional cheating often leads to a full-blown sexual affair.
Emotional intimacy and secrecy prime a couple for physical consummation.
Is Emotional Cheating Forgivable?
Many couples can recover from an emotional affair as long as the outside relationship comes to an end.
As with all things related to relationships, individual results vary. Forgiving an emotional affair depends on the parties involved.
You may decide to forgive a partner, whereas another person is unable to excuse the betrayal.
The results of a Norwegian academic study that surveyed 92 couples offer these insights about emotional affairs:
- Women consider emotional affairs serious, even more intense than sexual affairs.
- Men see sexual affairs as more serious than emotional adultery.
- In general, men and women are equally likely to forgive any type of affair.
- The perceived level of threat to the relationship determines the likelihood of forgiveness.
Forgiveness for an emotional affair relies on how willing the two people are to rebuild their connection. The infidelity could be a wake-up call for a couple drifting apart.
The crisis could refocus a couple's energy to build lasting intimacy and strengthen the relationship.
Very little is absolute in relationships. If the cheater does not view the situation as a big deal, the betrayed partner will experience more intense isolation, and the relationship is likely to unravel completely.
How to Forgive Emotional Cheating with These 7 Key Steps
How do you forgive someone who is emotionally cheating? It comes down to the following seven necessary steps for forgiving an emotional cheater.
The process can be a long one, but keep in mind that many people succeed at repairing their relationships.
1. Give Yourself Time to Process Your Emotions
When the secret comes out, emotions will overwhelm you. At this time, you need to recognize that you're not in a frame of mind to jump straight into forgiveness.
Anger or depression are common reactions for victims of emotional infidelity. Experiencing so much emotional turmoil, you should take time to process all of your feelings and reactions.
You could write down how you feel and revisit your diary over the course of a few days or weeks. Once you feel ready to articulate your feelings, you can proceed to the next steps.
2. Confirm That the Affair Has Ended
The time has come to reopen communication with your partner. First and foremost, you need to confirm that the emotional affair has ended.
Your partner needs to commit to ending covert communication or contact. If your partner admits that contact is ongoing, clarify that you won’t move forward unless the affair is over.
The attachment to this person can be powerful, but it’s impossible to remain with a partner who resists calling it off with the outside person.
3. Explain to Your Partner How This Made You Feel
Now that the emotional infidelity is in the past, you can work through the steps toward forgiveness. The time has come for your partner to hear all of the details about your pain.
During an emotional affair, a cheating partner may believe it wasn’t harmful because there was no physical intimacy. But you know better.
Spell out your emotions and how the affair has wounded you and eroded your ability to trust.
This step is your opportunity to educate your partner on the consequences of the secret relationship. A person who cares about you should experience genuine remorse for upsetting you so profoundly.
4. Ask Your Partner Why This Happened
After you've explained your feelings, you can ask your partner questions. At this stage, try to determine what was missing in your relationship that caused your partner to stray.
A partner might share many reasons.
- You may have been emotionally unavailable and not realized it.
- Your partner may have wanted to avoid bothering you with their problems, especially if you were already dealing with difficult issues.
- Many times people drift into an emotional affair because it feels new and exciting.
What may have started as confiding in a friend shifted slowly into an emotional affair. Whatever the causes, you and your partner need to figure out what needs to change to fix the relationship.
5. Seek Outside Support
Now that all of the information is out in the open, you need guidance. This support could come from talking with a friend or close relative or going to couple’s counseling.
An outside and sympathetic perspective can help you come to terms with your shock, grief, and anger.
Counseling can help you have productive conversations with your partner beyond what may be possible in the absence of a neutral third party.
Additionally, therapists can supply effective strategies to improve your communication and renew your bond.
6. Give Yourself More Time to Resolve Your Feelings
As you consider any advice that you've heard from your support network and therapy sessions, you’ll continue to work through your feelings.
You don't want to rush yourself into forgiving emotional infidelity. If forgiveness feels forced, or you do it before you're ready, then you could fail.
An offer of forgiveness must come from a place of sincerity. Otherwise, you won't mean it, and you'll slide into resentment.
7. Build a Better Connection With Your Partner and Move Forward
When you reach the final part of the seven necessary steps for forgiving an emotional cheater, you and your partner should be feeling hopeful about the future.
You've talked at length about the forces that drove you apart, and you’re ready to be a couple again.
Approach this step like dating. Do fun and special things together. Check in with each other regularly and communicate about what's important. You want to build a new connection that makes emotional cheating unnecessary.
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How Do You Survive Emotional Cheating?
A relationship that survives an emotional affair in now operating under updated terms. You and your partner have now clearly recognize that infidelity includes emotional intimacy with an outsider, even if there was no sexual contact.
Both of you have gained a new appreciation for what you mean to each other.
Recovering from emotional cheating means that both partners should:
- Be willing to show vulnerability
- Be ready to listen when a partner needs to talk
- Agree to couple’s therapy when you hit bumps in the relationship
- Create emotional saftey and security for each other
- Recommit to creating a trusting and meaningful relationship
View the Emotional Affair As a Learning Opportunity
Your discussions with your partner after you discovered the affair likely increased your understanding of his or her needs — and revealed some of your own.
When you survive an emotional affair, you've both experienced a “near miss” that almost destroyed your relationship.
One or both of you neglected to nurture the relationship, leaving one partner vulnerable to the intrigue and excitement of connecting with someone else.
You've both gained the skills and knowledge to create a relationship immune to the temptations of infidelity, and hopefully, your relationship is all the stronger as result.