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Emotional VS Physical Cheating


We all know that infidelity can be a deal-breaker in any relationship. The all-important aspect of trust has been undermined, and you can end up questioning the whole thing and doubting what you had. It may have been a drunken one-night stand, an ill-judged kiss or even a sober hook-up, but feelings are still hurt whatever the action. Whether it’s you or your partner who has committed the ultimate relationship sin, there isn’t an easy way to deal with the situation, and each couple will deal with their problems differently.

But does the situation become even more difficult to deal with when there hasn’t been any physical intimacy involved? What if you or your partner has been emotionally involved with another person, without any kind of sexual contact? This is what’s known as an Emotional Affair, and many think it’s worse than physical cheating.


An emotional affair can include anything from “innocent” late night phone calls to full blown sexting, daily coffee breaks together to backlogs of Facebook chat messages. But it boils down to this: you’re sharing personal, intimate things with someone who isn’t your boyfriend or girlfriend, and for some people this kind of involvement with another person can seem like the ultimate betrayal. Emotional infidelity is much les clear-cut than physical cheating. There isn’t a definitive ‘line’ to cross, and you can become gradually more and more attached to the ‘affair’ without realising it. What may start out as ‘innocent’ flirting (although in my book there’s no such thing) may develop into something more, a connection you share with that person, but maybe not with your partner. Although you can share personal things with close friends without cheating, it’s possible to distinguish a point at which you enter into ‘something more’ – whatever that may be.

The well-known saying that men are from Mars and women are from Venus is particularly true in this case. Opinions on emotional cheating vary greatly between guys and girls, with some even questioning whether emotional affairs even exist. When asked which type of infidelity they thought was worse, most boys answered either physical, or that they didn’t know. Men tend to be much more physical and hands on, so give more importance (in some cases) to the physical side of things. Worse still, physical cheating may indicate that your partner isn’t satisfied sexually, and needs to find ‘fulfilment’ somewhere else. This situation plays on a more masculine, physical insecurity. One male student thought that: “A woman physically cheating would make a guy feel insecure about how good he was at satisfying his partner…As the man is supposed to be the provider, it’s therefore seen as something he can’t provide and so maybe it’s an egotistical thing…” Perhaps another reason why men may find physical cheating worse is that it is more easy to imagine, and men are much more visual when it comes to sex. Studies into male reactions on cheating indicate men can be more possessive and protective over their partners than women. But is this a huge stereotype and perhaps an easy way out? This ‘caveman’ definition is potentially too simplistic, and really doesn’t give enough credit to men’s emotional capacity.


Women on the other hand tend to be a little clearer on the subject, with most girls I talked to stating implicitly that they would feel much more betrayed if their partner had cultivated a private, emotional relationship with someone else, and had even grown to love another person. “Whilst a physical betrayal like a one-night stand would initially be more hard-hitting, I think that in the long term emotional cheating would be much harder to get over” says one female student. Another student said that when she discovered her long-term boyfriend had written letters to other girls during his time abroad, although they didn’t contain anything sexual, it felt like a personal betrayal as he was sharing an emotional connection with other women. The fact that the person you’re meant to be closest to is involved with another person, albeit not physically, can destroy a relationship as you start to wonder what they’ve shared with them and not with you. Emotional cheating is generally conducted whilst sober, and texting especially can involve thinking carefully about what you say to the other person: there is no ‘It’s just sex’ or ‘I was drunk’ excuse here.

It’s not hard to find similar opinions all over the Internet. A ‘He Said/She Said’ article on the subject from the Marie Claire website states, “There’s no emotional cheating equivalent to a one-night stand. It’s generally quite a calculated and elaborate production to hide one”. 

It’s fair to say that this article contains generalisations, and in some cases guys and girls may feel completely the opposite of what ‘studies’ say they should feel. The hard part about emotional cheating is that there is no way of defining it on the whole, as each situation is different. However, the general consensus is that you are the one who knows your partner best: if you know that what you’re texting or doing with another person would hurt them, then that’s an emotional affair. If you can’t share this ‘platonic’ relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend, then you shouldn’t be pursuing it.





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Caroline Butten is a Third Year English student at The University of Exeter. She is planning to pursue a career in Publishing after graduating next Summer, and finds being President of the Exeter chapter of Her Campus is a great way to develop her editorial, marketing and business skills. As well as writing and editing articles for Her Campus, Caroline has a lifestyle blog and enjoys posting about fashion, beauty and baking. Her favourite publications include the UK magazines Company, Glamour and Cosmopolitan. Favourite books include The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and any kind of cookery book. On campus, she is a part of the Netball and Lacrosse Clubs, and also studies French language as part of her degree. After University, Caroline plans to spend some time working in Paris both to improve her French and to explore in depth the city she loves. 
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