Even if your partner never physically cheated on you with someone else, that doesn't necessarily mean that they have been completely faithful to you and your relationship. Emotional infidelity can be just as hurtful and devastating as a physical affair. Some people even think that it emotional infidelity is a bigger betrayal than a one-off physical incident. And though you might feel blind-sided by cheating, there are some ways to tell if your partner is at risk of emotional infidelity that might help you recognize that something could be going on in your relationship without you even knowing that it is.
Emotional infidelity feels like such a terrible betrayal because being emotionally vulnerable can be really, really difficult for people. In some cases, feeling emotionally vulnerable might make you feel more exposed than when you're physically intimate. If your partner exhibits some of the signs that they might be at risk of emotional infidelity, there are a few things that you can do. But you might first need to have a conversation with them (and potentially recruit a therapist to weigh in as well) about how these actions are making you feel.
"It’s always a good idea to understand red flags, and allergies to emotion, and not respond angrily and assume that your partner doesn’t love you or care about you," Dr. Claudia Luiz, PsyaD, a psychoanalyst and author, tells Romper by email. "We can move quickly to feeling unloved when we see red flags and allergies to emotions. Instead, gentleness, softness, and care is required to keep the words flowing. Communication, exploration, and growth are in order. We are here not always to solve, but to evolve. Get help if communication stalls, and find a therapist who can help you get connected through the difficulties."
Just because you recognize some of these signs doesn't necessarily mean that your partner is being emotionally unfaithful, but knowing which signs might indicate that they're at a higher risk could help spur you to take action if need be.
1. You're Not The First Person They Tell Things To
If your partner tends to tell someone else things — whether good or bad — before telling you, that could be one sign that they either are being emotionally unfaithful or are at risk of it. Stefani Shaffer-Pond, LMSW, a licensed master social worker and sex therapist, tells Romper by email that this is a red flag because your partner should be the first one you turn to, not the last.
"If you find yourself wanting to share important news — a promotion, a health scare, etc — with someone other than your primary partner, you need to pause and reflect," Shaffer-Pond says. "What is it about this other person that makes you want to seek them out first? Have you created a relationship with them that has supplanted your spouse/primary partner, even if it hasn't become physical? What emotional need is being filled by this secondary relationship that you're not getting from your spouse? When someone else other than our spouse [or] partner becomes our first thought in times of joy or sorrow, you are at high risk of committing emotional infidelity."
2. They're Busier Than Ever
People react to big life changes in all sorts of different ways, but if your partner's response has been to stay away, throwing themselves into work, hobbies, or other responsibilities, that could also indicate that they're at risk of emotional infidelity, Brittney Young and Phillip Young, certified couples coaches that work with couples that are new parents, tell Romper by email.
"Feelings of unworthiness or intimidation of being new parents can also lead to less communication, more stress and increased isolation around the house," they add.
3. You're Dealing With A Chronic Condition
If either you or your partner is dealing with a chronic condition or serious illness, that might also put them at a higher risk of emotional infidelity. "When a partner is physically incapacitated, sometimes even by a pregnancy, their partner will turn to others for emotional closeness," Luiz says. It can be difficult to watch your partner handle something so challenging and since you're experiencing it differently, they might think that they're better off confiding in others instead of in you.
4. You Have A New Baby
New babies can seriously throw off your routine and can also affect your relationship. The Youngs say that the so-called fourth trimester, the couple of months after the baby is born, can be difficult on relationships, resulting in lower relationship satisfaction and emotional challenges. One of you might think that someone else would understand your experiences better or you're just so focused on this new little being that you lose sight of what's going on between the two of you. The Youngs recommend daily check-ins for all of their couples that put their emotional connection front and center to ensure that it doesn't get lost in the shuffle.
5. They Leave The Room When They're Upset
Couples should be able to work through irritations, annoyances, and anger. Those sorts of emotions are part of life and can certainly be part of long-term relationships. If your partner can't stay in the room when these things comes up, that's not a great sign. "This makes them likely to [want to] go outside the relationship for good feelings, as they cannot recover from the normal ups and downs in a committed relationship," Luiz explains.
6. You Feel Shut Out Of Their Life
Feeling like you're not a valuable part of their life and that your partner doesn't include you in things ranging from major decisions to life events or how they enjoy spending their time can feel really isolating. And if you're not feeling like part of their life, it could be because they're not telling you things. In that case, you may need to strike up the conversation.
"Share your feelings and ask your spouse what they get from this secondary relationship that you are not providing," Shaffer-Pond says. "Sometimes, it's something simple — a shared hobby or area of interest that you don't have. Other times, it can be much larger. If your partner responds by saying that they don't feel like they can talk to you, or come to you in moments of crisis or concern, seek out counseling: either as a couple or on your own. Communication and connection are the foundations of a healthy, long-term relationship."
7. They Can't Meet Your Needs
If your partner feels like you're always criticizing them, they might not be able to do the things that you need or want them to do within your household or relationship. "So if you say something like, 'Can you help me in the kitchen?' They may get defensive and even angry, saying something like, 'you’re always telling me what I do wrong,'" Luiz says. "Feeling defensive and criticized puts a person at risk for emotional infidelity, if they feel too persecuted within the relationship."
Communication is essential in any relationship, so if you feel as though your partner might be at risk of emotional infidelity, talking to them about it can be a good first step.
"The very first thing you should always do is set aside uninterrupted time for a heart to heart conversation about your feelings, observations, and concerns," Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, a psychotherapist, relationship coach, and divorce mediator, tells Romper by email. "Be prepared for denials and defensiveness — and be proactive in how you respond. 'I know our relationship has been off track for a while and that we have not been connecting or making time for one another. I miss you and really want to work on getting us back.' By stating what has been happening, you will open up the conversation to allow the hard things to be talked about, even if just for a bit and as a first step towards more talking and addressing the problems together."
Prioritizing your connection can also help. If it doesn't seem like you're getting anywhere, a therapist might be able to help you break through and get to a point where your relationship is in a better place.