What Is Emotional Cheating? I Can Tell You, Because My Ex-Boyfriend Did It

The Huffington Post recently conducted a survey about emotional cheating that caught my eye. They asked 1,000 U.S. adults if they considered emotional cheating to be actual cheating. What did they find? 60 percent of those surveyed said that if their partner “developed a deep emotional connection with someone else, it would be considered cheating,” while 18 percent said they wouldn’t consider it cheating.

I’d like to talk to those 18 percent who don’t consider emotional cheating “real” cheating because, um, I think they’re wrong. Really, really wrong. Emotional cheating is totally “real” cheating and I know this because unfortunately, it happened to me.

What is emotional cheating? We’ve already given you guys the signs of it, but emotional cheating is when your significant other develops a serious connection with someone else. It’s basically cheating without doing any of the physical stuff, like sex or making out.

For some people, emotional cheating is considered even worse than all of that physical stuff. Sex is sex and for a lot of people, it can be purely physical – it’s just about giving into temptation and feeling good. But emotional cheating goes beyond just sex. Emotional cheating is about creating a real connection with someone else. Your partner is no longer turning to you to talk about their day, get an opinion on something, reveal their secret dreams. They’re going to someone else for that. That kind of connection is much more deep than just wanting to bone someone and it really, really hurts.

Does it hurt worse than physical cheating? I don’t know, because as far as I know, I’ve never been cheated on in the physical sense. But I do know that emotional cheating was bad enough to make me end an almost five-year relationship. So, here’s a little story for all of you who aren’t convinced that emotional cheating stinks.

couple fighting

We were always fighting and he was always saying he was doing nothing wrong. | Source: ShutterStock

When I first started dating my ex, D, we quickly became best friends – he was my world. I told D everything, things I had never told anyone else and he did the same with me. We could easily talk on the phone for hours because we never ran out of anything to say. I was never bored when I was with him and I had never felt closer to anyone else in my life.

But, like I said, that was the beginning. After about a year, D became good friends with a girl he worked with named Jackie. I was jealous at first, but then I got over it. D had always been very friendly and outgoing – he was just one of those guys everyone enjoyed being friends with. I figured it couldn’t hurt if he had a friend who was a chick. But after a while, their friendship got more than a little annoying. D brought up Jackie’s name constantly. He told me that he talked to her about personal things and one day he said something about how he was glad he had another best friend.

We started arguing about Jackie all the time and I was always worried that he was (physically) cheating on me with her, but he promised me he wasn’t. Eventually, Jackie moved away and the problem disappeared on it’s own. But that definitely wasn’t the last time it happened.

A few months later, D became super, super close with a girl named Jenn. I became BFF with her and we all started hanging out. After a little while, though, Jenn got even closer to D. They hung out on their own and had all of these little inside jokes. Whenever I was alone with Jenn, she brought D up constantly.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that Jenn had a little crush on D. D laughed it off, so I stayed friendly with her… until Jenn started actively trying to break us up and even started flirting with D and saying incredibly inappropriate things to him. I finally ended my friendship with Jenn and basically forced D to end his. But for a while, I truly thought that she would be the one to break us up.

sad girl

I’m so glad I finally ended things. | Source: ShutterStock

This happened a few more times with different, random girls who would enter my boyfriend’s life, become his best friend, develop a crush on him and then suddenly disappear. I spent most of my time feeling jealous and scared that he was physically cheating. I thought it was wrong of him to develop these friendships, but he said he wasn’t doing anything wrong and I guess I wanted to believe it.

Our relationship didn’t end until D met a girl named Tina when we were in college. Just like the situation with Jenn, Tina became my BFF too. We hung out with her almost every day and she was a central part of our lives. Things started getting shady when I would call D, only to have him tell me he’d call me back because he was on the phone with Tina. They posted pictures of each other online like they were dating, talked about how they were best friends and practically soulmates and basically made me look like a complete idiot. Tina obviously had a huge crush on D. One day, I finally had enough and I broke up with D. It was the best decision I made throughout that entire relationship.

To this day, D insists he never physically cheated on me. That doesn’t matter to me though, because he emotionally cheated, multiple times. He never seemed to think he was doing anything wrong (according to the HuffPo survey, people are less likely to consider emotional cheating cheating if they’re the ones doing it) and so he never apologized. A few months after we broke up, a friend asked me if he had ever cheated. I considered the question, then responded yes. Because he did cheat – he ignored me for these other girls who he made fall in love with him, all while keeping me around and making me feel like I was the one who was acting the wrong way.

The point is, emotional cheating sucks. Of course I support the idea that your partner can have other friends besides you during a relationship, but I don’t think your partner should be developing that sort of close connection with another girl while he’s dating you. It’s obviously okay to have best friends, but when you start treating them as your girlfriend, that’s not okay. Keep an eye out for this behavior – you shouldn’t have to put up with it like I did.

Have you ever emotionally cheated? Have you ever been emotionally cheated on? Do you think it’s real cheating? Why or why not? Tell me in the comments.


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  1. avatarlaura says:

    I recently found texts on my boyfriends phone from a girl he had met in a chat room. We had been going out for 4 years but he had also been texting this other girl for 4 years. He used the pet names he used with me, told her he loved her, wanted to build a future with her, everything he told me. Even sex messages. I am so heartbroken I was will to give him another chance until he told me he didn’t know what he wanted. I can’t believe I didn’t realise what was going for the whole 4 years of our relationship. I don’t even know how to start to get over it.

  2. avatarDalia says:

    I do consider emotional cheating a form of cheating. What is the point of a monogamous relationship with another human being if the bonds you 2 share is being spent on someone else. ‘Just Friends’ is one thing, going to them with e v e r y single issue you have, ignoring texts to your significant other because you’re taking your ‘friend’ out to eat is a whole different thing. My last boyfriend was like this. When we met, he told me up front he was still close friends with his ex, that she even lived next door to him, etc. I was a little uncomfortable about that at first but he assured me there’s no more feelings there and never would be. I wanted to give him the benefit of a doubt, to be the ‘cool. open-minded, trusting girlfriend’, and believe me, I tried. But I got tired of her CONSTANTLY being mentioned. If he were going through something stressful that day, he always went to her first about it. He would hang out with her at least 5 days out of the week, taking her out to eat, hanging out with her, watching their favorite T.V. shows. Not just once a week..no..FIVE TIMES A WEEK. I don’t understand how he and I could ever have been able to have a deep, meaningful relationship, while it was more than obvious he was still in deep with her. Maybe not sexually, but definitely emotionally. Ladies, please take my advice: do not stay with a man like that. Even if he tells you he loves you and swears he’s not cheating, you deserve a real relationship.

  3. avatarJuliet says:

    Would any one agree men do this because they need other women to feed their ego? I don’t like it too because i think emotional cheating will eventually lead to physical cheating. Or it can possibly lead to temptation. Thank you for writing this article. The same is happening to me currently, at times I doubt myself and think” Should I really break up with my bf or think perhaps its not really a problem” so reading your article is a great eye opener and just confirms I am not imaging things. .

  4. avatarAnkur Mohadikar says:

    hii..Jessica im ankur from India im totally agree with you i want to talk with you r u in facebook can u spare some time for me plyss..i love one girl from 5 yrs and there are things i want to share with you because i thinkk u will understand me..!

  5. avatarcarlie davis says:

    My longterm boyfriend whom I had a small daughter with cheated on me throughout our relationship with a woman name Jennifer Brown who is eighteen years my junior. I only found out about the two of them a year and a half ago…it was hard…he did not want to let her go..I think that he wanted both of us….finally…it suppose to be me and him. However,when we are together he hides his cell phone.. He tells me that he is not ready for a complete relationship with me yet…but..he don’t want me to leave him…he say at this point the two of them are not doing anything…yet..I never see or here a cell phone when we are together…..he is emotional attached to her..

  6. avatarIsabella L Z says:

    Yes, I’ve been emotionally cheated on by my current lover unfortunately.. I thought everything was perfectly fine, we were fine and happy. Like I said ‘Thought’. One morning I was getting ready for school 7 AM & someone had texted his phone so I just checked it for him and it said ‘Good Morning’ :) & I just texted back and didn’t think anything about it and said goodmorning. & they texted back saying wow your up early! And this person’s contact name was under a guys name & I thought it was all weird and it sounded like a girl texting, so I called and a girl answered. I asked my SO & he said it was probably his girlfriend who answered. He’s a notorious liar.. & So I left and I knew he was lieing and we fought all that day and spent time apart and then he finally told me the truth. He met this girl at pizza hut when he was getting pizza for his clients at work, & he texted her all that day and even sent pictures. Plus he was working with my mom at the time. I’m not sure if I could ever forgive him for what he’s done.

  7. avatarmary smitherman says:

    My boyfriend and I have been together for two years, we have two children together. My problem is he has these female friends that he is extremely close to he swears he isn’t cheating but they do everything together and I do mean everything she even lives near him and the other women he has on his page which I’m not allowed to comment but they can say how they feel he hides his phone when I’m in the room or holds his phone near him so I can’t see it

  8. avatarstephany says:

    Hi, my fiance has been looking at other woman a lot. As soon as he sees a attractive girl he seems to get uncomfortable. His cheated on me once before back when we were in high school. I’m just wondering should I worry about this because I really really hurts a lot everytime I see him doing it. Is it emotional cheating ?

  9. avatarBelinda says:

    Cheating is anything you feel you must keep secret from your partner, anything you feel you must deny rather than be truthful. When you allow yourself any action that you know your partner would question why or who and when. Any actions that could hurt your partner or damage trust is all a part of cheating. If anyone believes it is no big deal to connect with someone other than your partner is lying to themselves and those they love. Let me be clear this action of connecting with someone other than your partner is CHEATING even without the act of being physical. Even if your partner knows you are friends and talk all the time, do you believe this act is benign? How can anyone question if this is cheating, it is just the same!

  10. avatarCase says:

    Hi. I’m confused. My boyfriend recently had a girl bestfriend and they would always be together, talk to each other wall to wall on facebook. They’re really having fun together and I’m so jealous because I cannot be with him since we’re miles apart. I haven’t met this guy in person. We just met online. We’ve been on for about seven months. we only see each other on skype. I’m scared that she’d eventually like him. I asked him to ignore the girl and forget about their friendship but he told me that he can’t ignore the girl because that would be so rude. We almost had a break up because of the girl. I don’t know about the details but I get jealous everytime. Is he emotionally cheating on me? Please help :(

    • avatarjanet says:

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  11. avatarbrenda says:

    Yes I have with my current bf of 3years. We have broken up becuz of that 3 times and the first time that hapend was awful. I felt like a I was Dying when i found out. it hurts so bad and it sucks. for me its worse than having sex with that person or just liking them becuz its like a mucho more deeper thing. By the way, I decided to write this becuz I never really said this to anyone. I still have some kinda of issue with the last girl he did it with. they went to scholl together but then she changed schools and my bf did too after that wich es kind of wierd. I think he still talks to her and even sees her. I hate feeling that way becuz I love him. but you cant control others decisions. that happend feb 2013 and its dec 2013 well who ever read this , thank you for listening… Bye

  12. avatarcttnkndiee says:

    I think i did I was a married women that became really close friends to a male cowork. Je was in my circle of friends. Bowling leauge happy hour drinking and casino buddy. I always invited my husband but he never joined me. I never hide my friendship with him.He would come to my home and my whole family would be there i met his son. When he asked me to go with him to pick up his mom from the airport one day while we were at a coworkerparty. One of our oother friends that knew us well and my husband too. Was upset and told him that he didn’t like the idea because i was married but despite that i went along with him. I loved my mother inlaw and husband at the time and left i was not doing no wrong, but when he introduced me to her she seem to be really glad to have finally meetinge. That made me feel odd. He and i would always go out to eat alone to nice restaurants he at the time was single but i wasn’t amd my husband would joke of him having a thing for me but he never told me not continue my friendship with him.I felt secured in my marriage and so there didn’t fear my husband ever being insecured my friend would tell me he was till in love with his high school Love that he had a son with. I did enjoy my fris company and the way he treated me on occasion he would act jealous at a bar when we would go out but i would say hey your not my husband but it still bother him. Another time drunk he told me he didn’t want to be alone anymore that it was horrible not having someone to share his life with. My heart went out to him but hey i never told me he was in love with me or tried ever anything. He always respected me that’s what made me feel comfortable to drink and. Go out with i hooked him up with my bestfriends sister they wwould see each other on and off for a few year. But he to me she would not eve . Be the one . When the time came that his child support was done with he started looking for home to buy. He asked me to go with him and find a place he said he trusted my judgment and liked my taste. My husband would say he is buying that home for his fantasy life. But his ex started loosing her car and was getting ready to get evicted the 650 a month payment was changing her life style so she convinced him to move in together and try it for awhile. But that she was not interested in buying a home NOW 4 years later im separated from husband and he is still living with her for awhile we stopped talking I was fired and started dating some one new, but i don’t have the connection i had with my friend and i want that. When we started talking again i asked him if he ended up marrying he said no. And i asked him if was happy NOW HE didn’t answer me. Now i want to know if that emotional cheating we did then was more than a crush.

  13. avatarDonna says:

    This week I broke up with my boyfriend of two months for cheating. I can’t say if he physically cheated because he denied it, but he most definitely emotionally cheated by confiding in his ex-wife, friends wives, and ex-girlfriend about everything while keeping me in the dark. He had told me in the beginning his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend both had issues with all his female friends, but that he wasn’t doing anything wrong, he was just the type of guy women felt comfortable talking to; first red flag. He also told me his ex-wife and he were better friends since divorcing and she regularly sought him out for advice, which I witnessed first hand when she was broken up with and sent him a text for comfort; second red flag. He had told me he had not been in contact with his ex-girlfriend since the split, but one weekend he completely disappeared and didn’t speak to me. He made the mistake of messaging me from an online app that has GPS tracking at the end of the weekend and it tagged him in her town. When I confronted him he admitted he’d been having family issues and needed a place to go to clear his head and since we’d only been together briefly and she was a good friend, he had stayed at her place. I broke up with him on the spot. He said nothing physical happened, he wasn’t going to break up with me, he just needed a friend and advice, and that I had trust issues. I told him he had cheated by going to a woman for emotional support whom he had been in a long term relationship with and ignoring me, not to mention lying to me for months about the ongoing nature of their relationship. These were all indications my feelings were not a priority and that he had a need to have multiple women to depend on and who depended on him. Since he didn’t see anything wrong with his behavior I felt I had no choice but to end it rather than continue to deal with something that would only bring me further frustration and unhappiness. I cared deeply for this man, it was not an easy thing to do, but I had to protect myself from the damage his emotional cheating would cause my confidence and happiness.

  14. avatarJessica says:

    Yup, I’ve been emotionally cheated on. I started dating my boyfriend at the beginning of my sophomore year in high school. Cute, I know. I felt a connection with him in the sense that even when we were far apart, we still enjoyed each others company over the phone. After being together for 6 months, I had really opens up to him, even more than I had before. We were both virgins, and he never pushed that idea on me. However, later that year in 2011, he got a job at target, and his terrible hours caused us to talk even less. He also wanted a better job, and he found one. I was happy because I was able to talk to him more again. Sad to say not even a week after he started, I kept getting “Stephanie”, “Stephanie”, “Stephanie”, and we knew each others Facebook passwords, and he told me he changed it, but never told me why or way the new password was. I didn’t have Internet at that time, so I wouldn’t have found out anyway. At that moment silly me pushed it aside and said “oh, it’s nothing.” I was wrong. 4 months later, I found out, on my own which was even worse. He never had the nerve to tell me that he had said very hurtful things about me to her. I planned on breaking up with him the next time I saw him, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to ruin what we already had. Oh young love. We were together for 2 years and 11 months when we had officially broke up. I ignored him for most of that time, until he realized how miserable he was without me. 4 weeks later, he came to see me, and here we are back together. However, I have been watching a tv show the last couple of days, and in the tv show, this teenage girl and her boyfriend had troubles, so they broke up. Her best friend and ex boyfriend ended up getting drunk and having sex. Her best friend told her and that was the end of a friendship and relationship for her. I was told that nothing happened between my boyfriend and Stephanie, but tonight, I cry and cry because I don’t know what to do. I’m so madly in love with this guy who gave me so much, but who also kept a secret from me and continuously lied to me whenever I asked if he still talked to her. Anyway. Bottom line is, yes, I think it is a form of cheating. In the end, someone always gets hurt. If even for a second, you’re thinking about someone other than your significant other, you’re already started down the path of cheating.

  15. avatarTheDailyVen says:

    This is my ex to a tee. He broke off an eleven year relationship claiming he was unhappy for some time, but I had only noticed a bit of a change in him the few weeks before he ended things. To me, everything was fine. He was happy, I was happy, and although his work schedule forced us to spend less time together leading up to the split, we were trying to make things work.
    In those few weeks that I had mentioned before, he started working with a 23-yr old twat (he’s 30) that he was “giving rides home to late at night, or else she’d have to walk home in the dark”. He didn’t hide this from me, and I really didn’t have a problem with it. He was spending more and more time with her (at work), and one evening, he was over an hour late to meet me after he had finished work and drove her home. Apparently she got a nasty text from a guy she liked, and broke down crying in his car. He felt bad because he wanted to be a friend and hear her out. Again, I really didn’t have an issue with this. He broke up with me two days later. Naturally I assumed he was physically cheating on me when I found an embarrassing love letter that he sent to her WHILE WE WERE STILL TOGETHER. And they were hanging out more frequently after we split. When I confronted him about the letter, he laughed and assured me it was nothing, and that he had only sent it to her because she was feeling down. He realized it was highly inappropriate, so I accepted this answer. A few nights later, she starts making fun of me on Twitter, mocking the positive quotes that I posted to help myself heal and move on. She was obviously into him, and he had no idea. Needless to say, I don’t have time for petty 23 year olds and deleted my Twitter. She’s a downgrade, anyways.
    I haven’t spoken to him in over a month at this point, and doing really well moving on. I don’t care if they are together or not, but at least after reading this article, I can be more aware of the signs and potential damage that I could be doing by not expressing a little jealousy now and then. In a world where us females are doing more and more for ourselves, I think men enjoy the little ego boost from some harmless jealousy.

  16. avatarTrina says:

    So my boyfriend and I are extremely happy, the cutest couple, and crazy about each other. so inlove. but my boyfriend became best friends with this girl, Carla, and they seemed inseparable. They’d hang out everyday, texted constantly. They’d tell each other everything, and he’d even tell her things that I wanted to stay between us only. She’s been known as the flirty girl who uses her looks to get what she wants, and she has broken up multiple relationships. My boyfriend knew for a year that I was uncomfortable with their relationship, but he refused to tone it down for me because he insisted that they were strictly just best friends and there was no “romantic connections”. We fought and fought for months, and after a while I felt bad for not trusting him and for making us fight all the time. We were drifting apart and that’s the last thing I wanted. So I apologized, beat myself up and did my best to get over it. It was so hard, and I just wanted to act like the “chill girlfriend”, because I know that insecurity and jealousy is a turn off. Oh and did I mention that while I was beating myself up and making it up to him, I was out of town for vacation in California? Why is that important? Oh, because while I was away and feeling bad, I had no idea that he was emotionally cheating on me. Carla told him that she had feelings for him, and he said that he felt the same way. They flirted back and forth the whole time I was gone, saying things to each other that were completely inappropriate. I only found out a week after I got back. After a week of being romantic and making it up to him and apologizing my ass off. I only found out because at a little get together, Carla was acting strange. She was usually outgoing and loud and cheerful but as soon as I walked in with him, she shut up and glared at us. That’s when I knew something was up. I forced it out of my boyfriend, and when he told me, my heart shattered into pieces. First of all: is this my fault? did it happen because i was constantly arguing about him being so close to her? I don’t know how to feel.
    Second of all, am I right when I say that she had absolutely NO RIGHT to reveal her feelings him because he KNOWS he has a girlfriend. She knew we were happy until she came along, she KNEW we fought about her, and yet she didn’t back off. She did the worst possible thing and the sluttiest thing, she flirted and manipulated him and got him to be infatuated by her. That’s totally unfair.
    So after I found out about it, he told me over and over that he was sorry and that it was the most stupid thing he’s ever done in his life. He said that it was because we were fighting so much and he needed attention, and Carla was there for him when we were fighting. —-I understand where he’s coming from, but I still believe that there should be no excuse. He says that the feelings weren’t even existent because as soon as I came back he lost his feelings for Carla. I don’t know whether to believe it or not. But it kind of makes sense to me. He totally cut her out of his life and no longer speaks to her or even looks at her.
    What he did totally destroyed me, and I feel more hurt than ever. I don’t know if I can ever get over this. Today we are trying to go back to the way things were before Carla came along, and to use that experience to try and build an ever stronger bridge of trust. But i still hurt, and it has made me very insecure. it has made me into the worst monster, I get jealous and I don’t trust him with anything. i was never the type of girl to be jealous and insecure, but After what happened, I am. i get jealous over him NOTICING other attractive girls. i know it’s ridiculous and totally normal for everyone to notice, but I can’t help but feel like he finds them more attractive than me and he’ll do it again. help. Any advice on my situation?

  17. avatarannabel says:

    I can see how that would suck, but what if they’re just close friends? Would you be so mad about it if it were guys he were talking to?

    • avatarhmmmm says:

      It’s obvious something like this has never happened to you because trust me it really is painful

  18. avatarPerfection-NOT says:

    My ex is guilty of this too. I couldn’t handle it anymore so i broke up with him and guess what! 2 days after the breakup I found out he was now dating the girl! broke my heart and made me feel like a fool because I’m sure everyone else noticed that something was going on between the two of them while he was dating me

  19. avatarDahl says:

    It seems as though you’ve never had any concrete proof that those girls had a crush on D. It seems you were acting on feelings of jealousy and “intuition”. Also, more blame was heaped on to those girls than on D.

    However, if he was making you feel insecure then it was best that it was broken off.

    • avatarJessica Booth says:

      I had proof… I knew because all of those girls told D or other friends of mine that they liked him. Two of them even admitted it to me.

      As for the blame being put on the girls… not at all. I thought I made it pretty clear that I blame D for most of this, I’m sorry if I didn’t make it obvious enough. Of course D didn’t force these girls into liking him, so it’s not all his fault, I do know that the blame can’t be put on only one person here.

  20. avatarDancing into the Storm says:

    My boyfriend and I have been going out for a while, and we have both confessed are ,I’ve for one another, and generally things are going great. However, there is this girl he has started speaking to and from what I’ve seen on Facebook (yes I’m a bit of a stalker XD), they seem very close. A little too close for my liking, but still. When I’ve brought her up, the first time he offered to stop talking to her, but I said no because what kind of girlfriend would I be if I told him to do that? Then the second time he offered to stop talking to her again, but this time it was like ‘But I’m doing a project with her’, which isn’t school related, by the way. Their new found friendship frustrates me like crazy, but I love him and I don’t want something like this to get in the way of us, even though when I think about it I die a little inside. I don’t know if this even counts as emotionally cheating, but a lot of you said Jess sounds sounds like him and her :/

    • avatarJessica Booth says:

      I’m sorry you’re so bummed about it! Check out the link in the post for signs of emotional cheating. Just because your boyfriend has a girl friend doesn’t mean he’s emotionally cheating, but if he’s forming some sort of attachment to her, it’s possible that he could be.

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