Wright Foundation | August 31, 2016

Emotional Cheating: Is It Really So Bad?

You probably wouldn’t dream of having a physical affair. But what about emotional cheating? Isn’t it a bit of a grey area?


Sure, maybe your head’s turned now and again when you see a hot guy or gal get on the elevator, but realistically, most of us remain loyal to our spouse. After all, we know the grass isn’t greener on the other side, no matter how appealing the grass looks.

Avoiding a physical affair is actually pretty easy. Stop thinking with your libido and just don’t do it. It’s black and white: Don’t have sex with someone else.

What is Emotional Cheating?

Emotional cheating is a slippery slope. We might go out with our buddies, coworkers, or girlfriends and end up venting and bitching about our significant other. Then later, when we’re home with our spouse, we’re cold, distant, and disengaged. We argue. We give them the cold shoulder or the hidden middle finger.

You start to feel like you’re a different person when you’re at home than when you’re at work—and you start to prefer work.

It happens frequently. We’re confident at the office. We’re successful and we know what we’re doing. We went to college and grad school to learn to do our jobs and we’re good at them. When it comes to social and emotional growth, though, most of us missed the college-level education and some are still working on our GED.

It turns out, relationships and social-emotional connections can be even more difficult to grow than our intellect. We’ve worked on honing and fine-tuning our work skills and our knowledge base, but we may have ignored our emotional intelligence. We study hard and get a top-notch education, yet we still walk away emotional idiots because we don’t know how to grow emotionally.

Emotional intelligence is just as important and vital to our leadership skills and growth as our intellect. So many leadership training courses are offered in areas of emotional growth and understanding because it’s so key to our ability to be effective leaders and managers. It’s something we have to want to learn and embrace before we can “get it.”

So, while we’re good at our job skills, we’re not as evolved when it comes to expressing our emotions and needs in our romantic relationships, or meeting the needs of our partner. Unfortunately, this leads us to a path where we feel inadequate and bad.

Rather than addressing the problem, we avoid and distance ourselves. We close ourselves off to our spouse and look to others to stroke our emotional side.

Here’s where the emotional cheating comes in…

Maybe you’ve found a friend at work you can confide in. While you’d never “go there” with them (and by there, I mean to the bedroom), you might find they become the person you’re most connecting with on an emotional level. You find yourself looking forward to spending time with them. Maybe you’re attracted to them or maybe you won’t admit it, but you’re at least attracted to their personality.

You’re entering a danger zone. If you value your marriage and want things to work out with your spouse, just don’t do it. Put the kibosh on any dalliances, roll up your sleeves, and do the work required to figure out why you’re getting your emotions stroked by someone else.

You can have friends, but friends are different. An emotional affair happens when your friend connects with you emotionally and intimately in a way you aren’t getting from your significant other. Chances are, it’s a connection and a way of interacting that would make your spouse uncomfortable if he or she were standing there in the room.

How To Stop Emotionally Cheating

Truth is, there’s no such thing as a fairytale romance. So no matter how sexually attracted or emotionally connected we are to another person, our social and emotional intelligence helps us realize these feelings come and go. Fleeting physical attraction isn’t worth throwing away a marriage or long-term commitment, right? Well, the same goes for over-the-top emotional connections.

People rarely jump from a physical affair into a healthy relationship. Why? Because it isn’t about the sex. While we all need human touch, an affair is usually about something else. So once we get over the physical excitement, we discover our deepest yearnings and needs still aren’t being met, because we haven’t done the work and we don’t know how to express what we really, truly want.

Sound familiar? Most of the time, emotional cheating works the exact same way.

The good news is you can figure out how to reengage in your marriage before it’s too late and something physical happens with another person. Keep in mind, it’s not often just about sex or need to rekindle the fires with your spouse. (Although, let’s face it: it doesn’t hurt!)

It’s about getting down to the heart of what’s missing in your marriage or relationship and discovering what you need to work on.

Before you begin any conversation, always assume goodwill. One of our “rules of engagement” is to assume goodwill on the part of the other party—and it’s true. You can safely assume your spouse isn’t out to make you miserable. They don’t hate you and they aren’t hoping your marriage falls apart. Chances are, your spouse or partner is probably wondering how to reconnect with you as well. They’re probably asking themselves why you’ve been so damned distant.

The first step is to have a conversation and get out what you’re feeling. This conversation might not be easy—it might even be downright miserable. You might hear things you’re doing that hurt your spouse and he or she might tell you you’re being a jerk. It might end up being a fight rather than just a conversation—and that’s okay.

Instead of fighting against each other, starting these tough conversations means you’re opening up and fighting FOR your relationship. Even if it’s a fight about how to reconnect and things get nasty and ugly, at least you’re moving in the direction of figuring out how to make things work. You’re expressing your needs and they’re expressing theirs.

We call this battling towards bliss, and once you start down that path, you’re moving in the right direction.

“Dedicating to being your best and living your vision takes courage as well as skill and practice. Dedicating requires that you face your fears as well as embrace your joy, that you become even stronger and more loving as you create even stronger and more powerful, loving partnerships.” –The Heart of the Fight

Where to Draw the Line

As for your emotional connections with your friends and coworkers, take a step back. We all engage with different people on different levels. I have some buddies I can talk to about subjects that bore Judith to tears, and she has the same. No one person can be everything to someone else.

The truth is, though, Judith knows who these people are and how intimate our conversations are. If she was standing in the room, she might be bored, but she wouldn’t be uncomfortable, and that’s where we draw the line when we commit to someone else.

If you’re emotionally connecting with your significant other and using conflict to move your relationship closer, rather than driving a wedge between you, chances are you’re on the right track. Realize you’re going to have to work on your emotional intelligence before you can evolve within your relationship, let alone outside of your relationship. Once the two of you get on the same page and start getting down to the heart of the fight, you’ll end up even closer.

For more on how you can energize your relationships, connect more deeply to your significant other, and bring out your very best self, please join us for our upcoming More Life Training.

Dr. Bob Wright

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Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.