Research suggests that physical infidelity unnerves men a lot more than emotional cheating. A 2013 study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology found that most straight men said they’d be more upset if their partner was having a sexual affair than an emotional one.
Most women, on the other hand, said they’d be more upset if their partner had fallen for the other person but hadn’t had sex with them.
HuffPost recently spoke to men of different ages (some last names were withheld for privacy) who say it’s a lot more complicated than that. Below, they define emotional infidelity in their own words and describe their experiences with it.
“Emotional infidelity is no different than cheating, when you start to invest your time and energy on someone else. In the process, you start to degrade your relationship. I think because of the internet and social media, people have done more harm to their relationships because it’s easier to build a fantasy than to work hard on your relationship. I am in a polyamorous relationship, and when we start talking to other people, if we are not all involved in the conversation, we know the danger that can cause to our relationship. When you’re not aware you’re engaging in an emotional connection with someone else, it can lead you onto a path you can’t come back from. It becomes an illusion, and I do think it can be worse than cheating.” ― Jimmy
“Emotional infidelity is any relationship that is more than friendship. Unfortunately, this is a huge gray area because every person and every couple has a different definition of what is and is not OK in a friendship. The most important piece to a relationship is setting the rules together and then following them, including when it comes to emotional infidelity. If at some point you realize that you don’t want to follow the rules, you need to ask yourself, why you don’t want to follow them?” ― Mike Goldstein, dating coach in New Jersey
“I’m not sure if I am naïve to think that if you have a good relationship at home you would never have an emotional affair. Over the years, I have found myself in a few of these relationships at work. When you work closely with someone, if there is any connection, the heart and mind begin to wonder. I think its natural. It’s what you do next that defines you. With that said, I thank God there were no cell phones and text messages whenever I felt this way about someone else. Not that it would ever have been [sexual], but the number of texts and length of conversation would have been abundant. It would have been hard to explain the overage charges I would have incurred to my wife.” ― Al DeLuise, blogger at Conflict and Scotch
“In every relationship, the mind will stray and wander, but for me, someone is being emotionally unfaithful when they are with someone physically but their heart is with someone else. They are spending a lot of time with the other person, revealing and discussing details they are not sharing with their significant other. When I was very young, I was with a girl who I felt I settled for. There were a couple of other girls I was talking to at the time who I felt I had a good connection with, better than the girl I was with. You can blame it on chance or whatever you want, but the truth is, I should never have gotten with my girlfriend in the first place. The emotional infidelity was just a manifestation of my poor relationship choice.” ― Lloyd, creator of the YouTube channel The Single Guy
“If a partner engages in an emotionally intimate relationship with someone else without the full knowledge of their partner, they’re having an emotional affair. Ongoing flirting, texting and emailing is all a part of this. I’m a dating expert. I’ve had clients who were married for 10 years, only to find out that their partners were talking to two or three other women at the same time. That’s emotional infidelity.” ― Adam LoDolce, a dating coach in Boston and New York
“I’m currently single. I’ve dated between relationships for 15 years and never cheated on a woman. If I’m looking around, it’s because I’m not happy in my relationship and I prefer to end a relationship than to inflict more pain on it. I think emotional infidelity is fairly simple to define. When someone stops investing their heart in a relationship and spends their emotional energy on another person, this precludes them from being fully emotionally present in their primary relationship. If you flirt with another person in texts, phone calls, or in person, your heart is reaching out to someone else while withdrawing from the other.” ― Ken Solin, author of Your Guy Is Out There: Online Dating Tips for Women Over 50
“Emotional infidelity is when you knowingly find solace in another being, despite having a partner who should really occupy this role as your first port of call and support network. I once had a partner who was terribly uncaring and had severe emotional issues, especially when it came to showing support and empathy. At times when I was under duress, I’d often feel ignored by my partner and reach out to my mother or sister for support. Even seeking advice from these female figures, who are obviously no sexual threat, was a massive source of anger for my partner, who felt embarrassed and inadequate that she had not been my first point of call. I knew I was purposely betraying my partner emotionally by reaching out to another female, but it begs the question: Who was actually in the wrong here: me or my partner? I believe that the answer is both of us.” ― Ollie Pearce, a dating and lifestyle coach in London
“I define emotional affairs as when a person’s heart and soul long for another more than the one they are with. Often, it leads to physical intimacy, however, I’ve also discovered that emotional affairs tend to be far more damaging for everyone involved. And if you’re able to recover, no matter what side you’re on, it will take much longer than a simple physical affair. Emotional affairs can be the roughest to accept as a person. I have had them and been on the receiving end when another started leaning toward someone new. When I did it, I excused myself by saying that the other person wasn’t supportive. While this may have been somewhat true, the deeper truth was that I, too, had stopped trying to emotionally support the one I was with. I have found through painful retrospection that it’s a lot easier to blame others than hold myself accountable for sheer laziness in my relationships.” ― Michael Cheshire, author of How To Knock Over A 7-Eleven: And Other Ministry Training
“I define emotional infidelity as having the feelings about another person that you’ve committed to only having for your significant other. As human animals, biological monogamy is not in our nature. It is not something that we are instinctively programmed to do, so it’s natural to be physically attracted to, or notice, other men and women. But when you begin to communicate and interact with someone who isn’t your significant other in a way that makes you build deeper emotional feelings toward them, you’ve betrayed a commitment you’ve made to one person who has put their trust in you. Sharing intimate secrets, sexting, confiding in another man or woman more often than your partner, spending one-on-one time together without your partner knowing, and discussing personal details about your relationship are all forms of emotional infidelity that don’t require anyone to physically cheat but still betray trust.” ― James Michael Sama, author of Unlocking Love: 10 Keys to Finding the Love of Your Life (Even If It’s You)
Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.