Fidelity Series: The Sting of Emotional & Physical Cheating
All names in this story have been changed for confidentiality.
My Experience with Cheating
I stayed over at my long-term boyfriend Mark’s place to watch a movie with him. Suddenly, a text message appeared on his laptop screen while we were watching our film. “How’s your night going?”, said someone texting him from an unknown number. “It’s just a friend who works at the bar with me,” Mark tells me.
Mark had fallen asleep before the movie had ended. My curiosity had gotten the better of me, and I made my way onto that laptop and began checking his text conversations (yes Psych2Go readers, I’m aware this is a no-no). To my horror – though unfortunately not to my surprise – I found hookup text after hookup text after hookup text. Nude selfies of Mark that had never been sent to me littered the screen. “What are you into? Have any other pics?” “Hey, I have condoms.” “I’m here now.”
I was infuriated. He was still asleep, should I punch him square in the face? Choke him to death? Leak his business onto social media? Before I had the chance to let my anger bubble completely to the surface, I found something else that broke my heart into pieces.
Mark’s friend Adam was, in fact, a co-worker. But he was no friend. He was a lover. I read romantic text after romantic text… “I had a great time with you tonight. I’ll remember that kiss forever.” My blind rage melted into piercing emotional pain. I left the evidence on Mark’s computer screen and I drove home without waking him up.
There’s no denying it, sexual – or physical – cheating is a hard pill to swallow for anyone. Breaking the commitment to a monogamous partner by having sex with someone else can change the social dynamic of your relationship – see THIS article on the signs of cheating – for the worse. The worst of all? If you’re caught, it’s extremely difficult to regain your partner’s trust.
There are a number of reasons that could lead a partner to be sexually unfaithful. These may include:
- Sexual dissatisfaction in your relationship
- Many people who are not satisfied by sex with their partner enter sexual affairs, hoping to gain better experiences.
- A desire to have more diverse sexual experiences
- Some people wish to explore their sexuality outside of a monogamous relationship but wish to continue the one they’re already in. Others may have sexual preferences or fantasies they feel embarrassed to discuss with their partner and seek other people to help fulfill these wants.
- Seeking revenge for a partner’s wrongdoing or as a means to end the relationship
- Rather than talk through their issues or end the relationship altogether, some people seek out new sexual partners to gain a response from their partners.
Each of these reasons stems from a lack of communication between partners in terms of what the cheater needs from the relationship. Some victims of cheating may not attractive enough for their partners. But it’s easier for many of us to put the entire fault on the cheater, who should have just been more upfront with us or perhaps could have even had a sexual addiction.
Either way, physical cheating is no easy thing to get over. But could getting over an emotional affair be worse?
Who does it?
Emotional affairs occur when two people find and feed into a socio-romantic connection with each other. Those in emotional affairs commit date-type conduct that would only be appropriate between the perpetrator and their original partner. These things include:
- Making calls and texts to someone that you instinctively feel the need to hide
- Spending time alone with someone and never inviting your significant other to come along
- Confiding in another person to tell stories to and keep secrets with and not your partner
- Taking more time to and energy to focus on bonding with someone else and not your partner
- Giving romantic gestures like dinner dates and sentimental gifts to someone other than your partner
Yes, budding affairs can happen. A recent Washington Post article recounts the story of Jacklyn Collier, who had to take a step back from a relationship she was cultivating with a Facebook friend after realizing it was becoming a little less than appropriate. Sometimes, people have to realize there are sparks of an emotional affair at all before they decide they need to build some platonic boundaries.
There are, however, other intentions behind why people run off to find other lovers.
- Unhealthy attachment styles
- While most of us have Secure attachment styles – meaning we are willing to give and receive intimacy and vulnerability – there are some people who have attachment styles that are not conducive to a healthy relationship.
- Those with Anxious attachments love intimacy but worry constantly about abandonment. This paranoia can be exhausting, causing these people to drive their partners away.
- Those with Avoidant attachments often show fear of true intimacy or commitment and may take great lengths to stop a relationship before it gets too serious.
Both forms of cheating can make anyone feel awful. They can make us feel worse when physical and emotional cheating happens together… and paired cheating is more common as a relationship ender than either form alone. But compared to physical cheating, why is emotional cheating such a dagger to the back?
- Emotional cheating involves romantic feelings
- Unlike the one-and-done feeling of a hookup, emotional affairs can cause deep emotional pain because they often mean that your partner preferred the company and personality of someone else over you. It’s a painful thought to feel so inadequate as a significant other that the love of your life has gone off to find a better option.
- Your partner could blame you for their betrayal
- Emotional cheating allows for your partner to use your faults as an excuse for their search for someone else. Perhaps they told you that your humor was too dry and they felt picked on by you, or maybe you were just too “clingy”. Maybe they’ve told you that you were holding them back from meeting their new, “true” love.
- It probably happened for longer than a sex affair
- It’s possible for sexual affairs to be mistakes. Poorly thought out, irresponsible and selfish mistakes, but mistakes. Emotional affairs are more likely to play out for weeks, months or even years at a time. Once you’ve found out and put all the pieces together, you’ll be left wondering if your partner ever even loved you at all.
- It can take longer to get over an emotional cheater
- Because of the purposeful nature of emotional cheating, you might feel inclined to never trust the word of any new potential dates for a while. The shock and post-trauma of an emotional betrayal can lead an individual to trust and intimacy issues.
They Cheated. So What Now?
Have no fear, dear reader. Love doesn’t have to die for you yet.
- Yes, feel bad! Feel sad! Feel angry! Give yourself time to process your emotions and mourn the loss of your relationship. Take a day to yourself and watch your favorite rom-coms and eat your comfort foods of choice.
Spend time with loved ones
- Find people you feel safe with and let them know what happened. As comforting as being on our own can feel, locking ourselves in our rooms for too long can actually promote loneliness and anxiety. Having a good support system will help uplift your mood, and serve as a reminder that there are people out there who don’t want to hurt you.
Work on yourself
- If your ex isn’t gonna love you right, someone needs to. Keep to your daily hygienic routines. Exercise. Do you not exercise? Start. Getting a daily dose of physical activity – it can be as low-impact as a 20-minute walk – and ensuring a cleanly appearance will help your body ward off a negative mood.
- Yes, we all feel the instinct to take the low road and tweet some nasty words, or walk over to their new partner’s place and start a fight. Look, no one’s asking you to get back together with them. If you do, good for you. You’ll both have a long road to recovery ahead (but that’s for another article). But if you don’t, that’s okay too – give yourself closure by telling that person that though what they did was hurtful, you forgive them. You’ll feel like a better person than you would by cutting up all of their clothes.
Question your own accountability
- Not to victim blame, here. Cheating is no one’s fault but the cheater. No one made your ex run off and betray your trust instead of just approaching you with their needs and concerns. Nonetheless, it takes two to make a relationship work.
- Ask yourself some important questions: Were you truly happy in that relationship to begin with? How was your communication in the relationship? Did you do what you could to ensure that your partner felt welcome to approach you with complaints or concerns? Or did you shut your partner down when they tried? We must keep these questions in the back of our heads in our next relationships to ensure that we are hearing our partners as much as we are being heard.
Yes, it’s extremely sucky feel the pain of cheating in a relationship. But it’s possible to move past an unhealthy relationship and learn from it, whether you’re the cheater or the cheated. Don’t give up!
Next week, we’ll be focusing on what you can do to make it up to your partner after you’ve cheated. Stay tuned!
Have any comments or concerns? Do you have any stories about cheating you’d like to share? Please leave us a comment in the section down below. Psych2Go would love to hear from you!
[…] the latter, consider that you might have a harder time fighting to get that relationship back (see THIS article for the reason why). Ask yourself these […]
Nicely written. Although child and adult attachment styles overlap somewhat, you may want to focus more on adult attachment styles in future content. In addition to a secure attachment style, don’t forget about preoccupied, fearful, and dismissive. These adult attachment styles tend to arise out of an interaction between self-esteem (low vs. high) and interpersonal trust (low vs. high). For example, someone who high self-esteem but low trust of others tends to have a dismissive attachment style. These individuals are fiercely independent and dismissive of intimacy.
I disagree that cheating is always the cheaters fault.
They may be in an abusive relationship and seeing someone else is the only way to get out. Or they may have brought their concerns to their partner many times but the partner didn’t care and refused to work on them but they still felt trapped?
Because the second situation is what happened with my mother and honestly I wouldn’t have called her husband a victim.