Cheating can take a lot of different forms. There can be the drunken one-night stand, the long-term double life someone leads, or an all-consuming emotional affair that never results in anything physical. But if knowing whether or not your partner is cheating on you is already hard, finding concrete signs of an emotional affair is even harder, because an emotional affair sometimes doesn't produce any proof. Sure, maybe there are text messages or emails you find, but maybe it’s just that they’re having a relationship with a friend or colleague that has crossed the boundary into emotional infidelity. And unlike with a physical affair, it’s easier for your partner to persuade themselves that they haven’t actually done anything wrong because it’s never become physical. So they may deny it and deny it and deny it—and even believe their own denial.
But emotional affairs are real—and they can be just as devastating as physical ones. It can be a nebulous concept and a difficult situation to describe. Of course, it’s natural that you have friends outside of your relationship and you may have a strong, deep emotional connection to one of those people, so when does it cross a line? “Emotional infidelity refers to behavior that one partner engages in that fosters emotional intimacy in the here-and-now with someone else, and sometimes promotes the possibility of sexual intimacy in the future, Psychology Today explains. “Many people maintain secret or semi-secret friendships when there is a clear mutual interest or attraction, while others may not be interested but encourage others' interest in them for the sake of boosting their own ego or distracting themselves from a sense of boredom with their partner.”
It sounds awful—but also difficult to spot. Here are the signs you need to look out for:
1. They exhibit strange phone behavior.
Just like a physical affair, emotional affairs can lead a person to be very weird with their phone. Either they’re suddenly constantly on it or they always have it hidden away. Even though privacy is important, if they’re bending over backward to keep you from catching a glance of their phone, it’s a worry. Especially in an emotional affair, they will probably feel the pull to be in touch with that person, as they become more and more emotionally dependent on them.
2. They’ve stopped confiding in you.
Because an emotional affair usually means that your partner is suddenly getting a lot of support and guidance from someone else, you may notice that they stop leaning on you so much. They’re not talking about work projects they’re worried about or they don’t feel the need to vent about their day.
3. They’re vague about their plans.
If your partner has started to be vague about who they're with or when they’ll be home, that’s not a good sign. They’re not going to want you to see that they're spending a suspicious amount of time with one person, so they may start giving you hazy details or speaking in generalities that make them feel like they’re not technically lying. For example, someone having an emotional affair with someone at work may speak about being out with work colleagues a lot, even if they’re just with that one person. They feel like they’re not actually lying, even though their behavior is not OK.
4. They’re moody with you.
It’s the oldest trick in the book—when someone’s feeling defensive, they lash out. If your partner is feeling guilty for what they’re doing to you, they may start to be curt or argumentative, acting as though you’re a problem. And if their emotional affair continues, they may start to grow bitter about your relationship getting in the way of their new one, which can make them take it out on you.
5. Your sex life has changed.
Affairs can have a weird effect on your sex life—for some people, cheating means that they feel so guilty and strange around their partner that their sex life falls off a cliff. For others, they become even more sexual, either because they have a lot of sexual energy or they don’t want you to get suspicious about something being off. If you notice a big change in your sex life, that can be a sign.
An emotional affair can destroy a relationship—and make you feel like you're going out of your mind. You can sense that your partner is pulling back and changing, but often there’s not a lot of concrete proof. So know the signs, talk to your partner, but trust your gut. And remember, an emotional affair can be every bit as destructive as a physical one, so don’t let your partner downplay it. Relationships are built on trust—and an emotional affair is a breach of that trust.