The traditional definition of cheating is that one person in a committed relationship is sexually involved with someone other than his/her partner or spouse. In recent years, cheating has been reclassified to include not only the physical affair but the emotional affair as well.
An emotional affair is defined as any infidelity that occurs through feeling or thought. With the technological development of cell phones and the internet, the definition of cheating has been expanded to include the traditional definition, plus the feelings and/or thoughts that comprise emotional infidelity.
Cheating now includes having intimate correspondence with someone while on a cell phone, meeting someone over the Internet or at work, and maintaining a close emotional relationship with someone other than your spouse.
The Difference Between a Physical Affair and an Emotional Affair
The primary difference between a physical affair and an emotional affair is actual, physical contact. Usually, cheating involves people meeting face-to-face and then engaging in physical sex.
With an emotional affair, there may be a meeting, but it can occur on a cell phone, a computer, or a lunch date with someone other than a spouse and there is no physical intimacy. Many of the people who are emotionally cheating don’t consider it to be infidelity. Their thinking is that, because there is no actual physical contact, the behavior can’t be considered cheating.
For example, Janice reconnected with Dean, an old high school boyfriend on Facebook. The two started messaging back and forth and were soon sharing intimate details about the problems in their marriages. This sharing led to them forming an emotional attachment due to their feelings of mutual support.
Before long, Janice and Dean are reliving their old courtship and wondering why they ever broke up because they have so much "in common." They long to see each other, they feel a rekindling of what they felt as teenagers, and before long both are expressing love for the other.
And there you have it. Janice and Dean aren't cheating in the traditional sense, but they've formed an emotional attachment and are engaged in an emotional affair.
The end result is that the unfaithful spouse is paying more emotional attention to someone other than their partner, and they are removing themselves from the commitment they made to their marriage.
An Emotional Affair Can Lead to a Physical Affair
An emotional affair begins with the exchange of personal information. As the people involved become more acquainted, the information becomes more personal. Some argue that an emotional affair is harmless because it is more of a casual relationship than traditional cheating; however, the intimate nature of the communication, plus the emotional investment made by the people involved, places an emotional affair on the same level as or worse than traditional cheating.
It is much more dangerous for a marriage should your spouse connect with someone emotionally than physically. Anyone who finds himself or herself drawn to another person on an emotional level should consider the possible consequences of such an affair. Emotional affairs are just as likely to lead to divorce as physical affairs.
The Danger of an Emotional Affair
While it is healthy and normal for people to have friendships outside the marriage, an emotional affair threatens the emotional bond between spouses. Friendships are based on attraction in that we are drawn to various qualities of our friends and healthy friendships don't need to threaten a marriage at all but rather add richness and enjoyment to life.
When an attraction turns into an obsession or into an affair, however, it can become harmful to everyone involved and nothing is more harmful to a marriage than the breakdown of the emotional bond marital partners have for each other.