Some may view emotional cheating as harmless companionship, but professional relationship consultant Chris Seiter says it’s just asking for trouble. “Emotional cheating often leads to physical cheating, and even though the lines are blurred when dealing with ’emotional cheating’ I have found that it can be just as dangerous,” he said.
Seiter went on to to explain that emotional cheating may mean different things to different people, but it all boils down to the same motivation: “If you have an emotional need that you need to get met by your partner and you instead go to someone else to get that need met, then that would be considered emotional cheating.” He says some examples of emotional cheating include seeking someone else out to make you feel admired, important, reassured, appreciated, or approved of. The following are the likely causes of emotional cheating.
It makes sense that a person who is overly attached to their partner would be less likely to stray, but Charlotte Howard, Ph.D., says people who need high levels of attachment may be more prone to cheating for that very reason. “Attachment style affects how people feel in close relationships and can make people insatiably hungry for more connection — in which case they might have to look outside the relationship for more,” she explained.
Just because a spouse is physically present does not mean he is emotionally checked in, and for some women, that sort of abandonment can be worse. “The urge to cheat can often emerge when women feel emotionally abandoned,” said psychotherapist and relationship expert Rhonda Richards-Smith, LCSW. “The physical presence of a partner is never enough to sustain a healthy, satisfying relationship. It is imperative that couples communicate their needs and expectations regularly as these can change over time. Instead of making assumptions or hoping your partner can read your mind, initiate a direct conversation about the emotional needs that are not being met.”
Marilyn Williams, founder of the MEDIAN Center for Resilience and Brain Training, agreed, saying, “In my experience, most women cheat (or explain/justify their cheating) because their emotional needs were either not being met, or were perceived as not being met by their partner. They feel lonely, ignored, not paid attention to, etc. Most of the time the cheating was not premeditated; they realized how lonely or vulnerable they were once someone else started paying attention to them.”
It may sound like a cop-out, but Michelle Crosby, relationship expert and founder of Wevorce, says simple biology may sometimes be the reason for a wandering wife. “Many affairs can happen during pre-menopause when women experience an intense flash of sexuality, biologically explained as a last chance to procreate, an urgent, hormonal ‘going out of business’ sale,” she explained.
Being afraid of intimacy has the power to destroy a relationship in more ways than one. Charlotte Howard, Ph.D., says those who have intimacy issues may still seek out that sexual companionship, but not with their partner. She says some people may be “scared of intimacy in a way that allows sexual desire to only be felt outside of a deep partnership, because there is too much closeness with a partner to feel safe merging through sex.
A power play
Sometimes, a woman’s decision to cheat is nothing more than a tactic to show her partner who’s really in charge. “When women feel that they have no voice in their relationship, they may be more likely to stray,” said psychotherapist and relationship expert Rhonda Richards-Smith, LCSW. “If a woman feels she has little to no say with regard to household decisions, finances, or future plans, the temptation to step outside of the relationship can be particularly tempting. In fact, some women may feel a gratifying sense of power and control when engaged in a secret affair.”
Smith reminds us that cheating isn’t the only way to exert power, though. It may just be time for a serious discussion. “If your relationship is headed this way, it is critical to evaluate whether the partnership is flexible enough to allow for better compromise and shared decision-making,” she said.