But it’s not the only way you can be unfaithful; betrayal and dishonesty come in many forms.
Below, relationship experts reveal seven nonsexual forms of betrayal, some of which can be just as damaging as a physical affair.
1. Complaining about your partner and the relationship to someone you’re attracted to
Venting your relationship frustrations to a close friend or family member is one thing, but if you find yourself lambasting your partner while chatting with the attractive co-worker you’ve been crushing on, ask yourself why you’re confiding in this person in particular.
“The goal isn’t to cheat, per se, but to advertise that you aren’t happy in your relationship so that a friendship with someone else grows more intense,” clinical psychologist Samantha Rodman said. “The friend may respond, ‘Wow, you have a terrible girlfriend, no wonder you’re so lonely.’ While this isn’t outright infidelity, it is betrayal and can set the stage for a later emotional or physical affair.”
2. Prioritizing work, a hobby or another passion above your relationship
In a healthy, balanced partnership, both people should have interests, activities and friends outside the relationship. But when someone or something else is occupying all of your time and energy at the expense of your relationship, it may mean you need to recalibrate your priorities.
“Occasionally I see a relationship where one person’s passion and involvement with their work acts like a wall in the relationship,” marriage and family therapist Amy Begel said. “That person comes home at the end of the day exhausted, all their passion depleted, and shuts down in the evening, unavailable to their partner.”
That said, there may be periods when a friend or family member in need or an important work project may occupy a lot of your time, forcing you to temporarily ― and understandably ― put your relationship on the back burner.
“But when it becomes a pattern, then it’s a problem,” Begel added. “It’s clear who or what’s No. 1 and it isn’t the partner.”
3. Divulging private information about your partner without their consent
It should go without saying but if your partner tells you something in confidence, it’s your job to be respectful of their wish (within reason, of course). Whether it’s in regard to their health, their career or some other aspect of their personal life, it’s your partner’s decision to share that information when they’re good and ready. For instance, let’s say your boyfriend recently got laid off and isn’t quite ready to tell people.
“He doesn’t want anyone to know because he feels embarrassed, but you post a vague status about it on Facebook that leads to others asking what you mean, and eventually you tell his private information to others,” Rodman said. “This betrayal of confidence can harm the relationship greatly, and makes your partner think that you prioritize ‘drama’ over being genuine and kind.”
4. Lying or withholding information about your finances
Financial infidelity is a common and often destructive form of betrayal. It may involve opening secret bank accounts, maxing out credit cards, gambling, loaning a family member a large sum of money or making a big investment or purchase without keeping your partner in the loop.
“When, for example, a spouse loses thousands of dollars on a gambling spree or secretly pours resources into a flawed investment without consulting their partner, the anxiety and loss of trust is often as devastating as an affair,” said Elisabeth LaMotte, therapist and founder of the DC Counseling & Psychotherapy Center. “And the consequences ― including home loss, credit score impacts and drained retirement funds ― often affect both the couple and even their children.”
These transgressions can be hurtful to your partner on an emotional and financial level, especially if you two have joint accounts and assets or plan to apply for a loan together.
“Your spending may keep you both from getting the house you want because of your bad credit or your partner may not be able to enjoy the lifestyle they want to have because of your overspending,” marriage and family therapist Aaron Anderson said. “When this happens, you’re betraying them by acting in your self-interest and not caring about the effect it’s having on them.”
5. Keeping other secrets from your partner
You might withhold certain information from your partner with good intentions, perhaps because you want to protect them from a potentially upsetting situation ― like failing to share your medical test results because you don’t want your spouse to be concerned. Or maybe you keep secrets for a more selfish reason; you know what you’re doing is wrong, and you don’t want to get busted ― like setting up a fake dating app profile to flirt with strangers. But either way, if you can’t come clean to your partner, slowly the foundation of trust, honesty and intimacy that the relationship was built on will wear away.
“Being vulnerable and letting your guard down to share what is going on in your life is more important than keeping secrets and hurting yourself and the one you love,” psychologist and sex therapist Shannon Chavez said.
6. Having an emotional affair
Maintaining friendships outside your relationship is healthy and can actually enrich the bond you have with your partner. But be honest with yourself: If this so-called friend is someone you’re sexually attracted to and you two talk constantly, often about intimate or personal topics, then you may be veering into emotional affair territory. Another telltale sign? You feel inclined to hide the nature of this “friendship” from your partner.
“Privacy is different from secrecy,” Begel said. “Privacy is healthy for a relationship; patterns of secrecy are not.”
Even when these emotional affairs are strictly nonphysical, they still take time and energy away from your partner.
As marriage therapist Sheri Meyers previously told HuffPost, “If you’re fantasizing, having intimate talks and sharing things you should only be sharing with your primary partner or sending late night ‘just thinking of you’ flirty texts, you’re not just having an innocent friendship.”
7. Disrespecting or criticizing your partner in front of other people
Ridiculing, criticizing or otherwise disrespecting your partner behind closed doors is hurtful, of course, but it’s especially cruel when done in front of others. Whether it’s rolling your eyes at the way your partner tells a story or pointing out something negative about their appearance, these kinds of undermining behaviors stir up feelings of insecurity that erode the trust in your relationship.
“Not feeling safe around a partner in fear that they will say something inappropriate or disrespectful in front of friends or family harms the relationship,” Chavez said. “You start feeling like you can’t be comfortable and safe around your partner. It feels like they don’t care about you enough to treat you with respect.”