Is Emotional Cheating Worse Than A Physical Affair?

Steinar Engeland

Is emotional cheating worse than a physical affair? In my experience, I would have to say yes, and when asked if emotional cheating is cheating I would also have to say yes. I am going to use my own personal experiences and one particular story from an old friend of mine when it comes to cheating to really make this issue as transparent and easy to understand as possible.

There is a boundary that every man and woman can cross when it comes to having friendships outside of a relationship, and when you’re treating someone outside of your relationship in these ways or these people better than your partner that is when emotional cheating comes into play.


Emotional affairs or emotional cheating occurs when one partner, male or female, puts physical or emotional energy, time, and attention into someone other than their partner, leaving them to feel neglected, disrespected, jealous, and alone. More people have said in studies that they could get over a physical affair, while emotional affairs are much harder and by causing so much strain on relationships and marriage they often lead to breakups and divorce. The issue with infidelity is the secrecy and hiding the fact that your partner or you have feelings for someone else, or a more emotional, intellectual, or spiritual connection to the point where you find yourself hiding things. When it comes to emotional cheating, many people don’t see that their actions are damaging or that they are cheating because sex isn’t involved.

For me, I consider watching porn as a form of cheating and have a few friends who also feel the same. I look at it as you’re watching someone have sex, who is being paid to or forced to have sex for your pleasure. Regardless of how you look at it, you’re supporting prostitution, which is. Also, if there was a man in the same room as me having sex with someone, or just pleasuring himself I wouldn’t act in a similar way because it would be cheating. Even though it’s on television, on the Internet, or in a magazine there isn’t a difference. You are still pleasuring yourself to someone who isn’t your significant other. Likewise, would you watch a livestream of a woman pleasuring herself and still not consider that cheating? What if that person was someone you know; now would it be any worse or better? These are all forms of cheating, no matter how much you pretend that it’s not.


Being able to recognize emotional cheating is actually quite simple; you just need to know what to look out for. My friend was dating this guy that we are going to call Todd. He was great and had every quality that she looked for in a guy, but what he lacked was honesty and trust. Todd had been in a few abusive relationships and whether it was the fact that he was damaged by those girls or that he was just a horrible person he didn’t treat my friend very well. My friend, whom we will call Claire, had this twisted view of who Todd was based on things that he had told her. He told her that he didn’t check out women because he needed an emotional connection with them before he found them attractive, but that he could objectively understand why someone was attractive. He would also talk about his exes constantly and would trash each of them. He talked about them so constantly that every story from his mouth was about some girl he had dated whose parents didn’t approve of him, who broke his heart, who cheated on him…and on and on and on.

We can assume that most of us have gone through something similar, and while it’s great to know you’re better that his or her exes, you don’t need to be reminded of it constantly. So time went on and a few months into their relationship Claire realized that Todd did, in fact, look at other women, in public, on his phone, in porn (which she specifically told him wasn’t OK because she saw it as cheating). They would go out in public and whether the person whose ass he looked at was 15 or 35 he still looked, and not just once but he would stare at them while she sat there feeling stupid. She told me that once they were spending time with his friends watching movies and he pulled up an app called “Chive” and scrolled to an image of a girl’s ass, not just her standing but her bending over so you could see how large her ass was. After he was done gawking he closed the app and went back to the movie, while she was sitting right next to him witnessing the entire thing.

Beyond these very disrespectful habits, he also had a close friend who we will call Vanessa. He met Vanessa once—let me state that again—he met her one time through one interaction and she lived in another state. Now Vanessa and Todd hadn’t started talking again until 3 or 4 years later when they connected over Facebook. Claire was OK with their friendship because she knew that Todd enjoyed having that connection from years ago until Vanessa crossed the friend line and became very inappropriate. Todd would text Vanessa every day, all day while he was at work because “he was bored and was filling his time” even though he would also text his girlfriend the same exact things in the same exact way. Basically, he was treating his girlfriend in the same way that he was treating his friend. He would constantly talk about her and share stories with her about his past and comfort her when she was upset, which was often because she was/is one of those “the world hates me, my life is horrible” self-destructive types.

Time would pass and Claire would tell Todd that she wasn’t comfortable with his friendship with Vanessa, how he talked to her, and the fact that he wouldn’t ever text her when he was with her. Claire went on vacation to California for a few weeks to visit her family and while she was there she made a half-joking/half-serious comment saying “I bet Vanessa is your new texting buddy since I’ve been gone.” Todd said that he hadn’t really talked to her and they went on with their conversation. On Claire’s birthday she called Todd because he hadn’t called her yet (it was early in the morning) and he didn’t answer but called her five minutes later and told her that he had spent the past hour talking to Vanessa on the phone about “random things” and “her issues.. He told Claire that he let her know about her concerns with their friendship and that Vanessa’s boyfriend was also concerned, and all about how Vanessa laughed and said, “We’re just bros.”

Fast-forward a little more and Claire would come to find that Todd had spoken to Vanessa every day all day the week that she left and the week after, that he had watched porn while she was gone after they had a few small arguments just because he was mad at her, and that Vanessa and Todd had always had an extremely inappropriate relationship. There was even one point when Vanessa was still dating her now-boyfriend that she and Todd were talking about how horny they were and how she wishes they had someone there to help them, in which his response was that he agreed…very inappropriate.

So was this friendship emotional cheating? Vanessa and Todd would console one another, he would hide their conversations, they had talked about sexual things in the past, and he would treat her like he did his own girlfriend to the point where it made Claire uncomfortable. Yes, because he was acting as though Vanessa was his girlfriend even if he didn’t realize, and the fact that he hid their conversations and their past friendship relationship it was emotional cheating because he insisted that they were only friends, and they crossed that boundary.


Claire had to block and delete Vanessa from Todd’s life because he wouldn’t do it but gave her permission to do so. His excuse was that he unfollowed her and his exes on social media and basically didn’t see why he had to delete any of them, even the toxic ones. Should Claire have done this, or should she have just told Todd that if he didn’t care enough to put their relationship first then she was done? It’s difficult to say whether the lying, cheating, manipulation, or broken trust were worth repairing. She can forgive him, but she won’t ever be able to forget what happened.

When you’re cheated on the first thing you need to ask yourself is if you made it clear from the beginning what cheating was to you, what was OK and what wasn’t OK. You also need to set clear boundaries and even if your partner doesn’t listen just like Todd didn’t, at least you can say that you tried. You need to look at why you are together, if it’s worth fighting, and if you can actually forgive the person who hurt you. If he or she isn’t ready to let go of their exes and continues to talk about them, if he unfollows the person who he cheated with but won’t delete her, if he continuously lies to you, checks out other women, watches porn, and goes against everything you already told him you don’t tolerate, then maybe it’s not worth it.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to spend the rest of your life worrying about who he might be talking to, if he’s going to cross those boundaries again, or if he will continue to be unfaithful. In this situation, I would create a pro and con list and write down everything that he has done and without letting the fact that you love him get in the way, really decide what’s best for you. At the end of the day you will be living in the life that you choose for yourself, and if you choose him you need to know that he has changed or at least that he won’t cheat on you again. Coping with cheating isn’t easy; it’s very hard and draining and exhausting to the point where you just want to give up. Take time for yourself, spend more time alone, and don’t jump when he says jump. Do what is best for you and always put your feelings first. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

More From Thought Catalog