The Difference Between Emotional and Physical Affairs

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Affairs, both physical and emotional, can do catastrophic harm to a relationship. When one partner engages in an affair, it destroys trust and leaves the other partner feeling betrayed. Even if an affair remains undiscovered, it harms the relationship. There is a reason that one or both partners are stepping outside the relationship, and an affair only makes it harder to recover from those problems.

Common Ways Both Types of Affairs are Discovered

A recent study found that most people are not caught in their first affair. Alarmingly, it is often not until the third or fourth affair that the other partner discovers the presence of an affair. Some of the common ways that people get caught include:

  • Text messages—discovering messages or photos on a partner's phone is one of the most common ways that affairs, both emotional and physical, discovered.
  • Background check—one partner feels suspicious that something is going on and orders a background check. Something in the background check, such as a hidden social media profile, leads them to discover the affair.
  • Getting caught in a lie and confessing is another common way that an affair comes to light. One partner may tell the other partner they are working late, and the partner decides to surprise them at work, only to find that they are not there.
  • The indiscretion is discovered and revealed, by a friend or family member of the innocent partner. Revealed affairs can happen in a number of ways, such as a friend seeing your partner leaving a hotel when they said they were working late at the office.

What is the Difference Between Physical and Emotional Affairs

An emotional affair is an infidelity that occurs through shared feelings and thoughts without a physical relationship. Emotional affairs have seen a meteoric rise with the advent of the Internet and cell phones. The perceived safety of becoming involved with someone online gives the illusion that it is not really cheating. Often, these affairs start out innocuously as friendships on gaming sites, social media, or even work-related chat rooms.

Physical affairs might also be emotional affairs, but they include a sexual relationship with someone other than your partner. Physical affairs leave no room for the cheating partner to deceive themselves that they are not unfaithful. However, physical affairs can be purely sexual or involve emotional infidelity as well.

What Type of Affair is Most Destructive

An emotional affair that stops short of one partner falling in love with someone outside their committed relationship might arguably be less dangerous than physical affairs. Still, emotional affairs often turn into physical affairs.

Physical affairs carry risk factors such as a pregnancy that results from infidelity or a sexually transmitted disease passed on to the non-cheating person in the relationship. Emotional affairs, as long as they do not turn physical, remove those risks.

However, emotional affairs can do equally as much damage to a relationship. Emotional affairs can also be insidious, where the involved party continues to attempt to convince themselves that they are not cheating. Make no mistake; if you are sharing an emotional or romantic relationship with someone outside your relationship, you are cheating.

Why Emotional Affairs Can Be the Most Dangerous

Emotional affairs start with an exchange of personal information. As the relationship continues to grow, the information becomes more intimate and personal. At this stage, most people would deny that they are involved in an affair.

If the relationship continues, and the depth of emotional investment increases, so does the danger. People often genuinely seem perplexed when they find themselves caught in an emotional affair. They genuinely had no intention of seeking a deep emotional connection outside their relationship.

Most people who are married or in any other form of long-term relationship will often state that finding out that your partner was having an emotional affair was more distressing than a short-term, purely physical, sexual affair. Because emotional affairs can lead to feelings of having fallen in love with someone else, emotional affairs are more dangerous to relationships than purely physical affairs.

What to Do if you are Having an Emotional Affair

The first step is realizing you are cheating on your partner, whether you are having physical sex or not. If your emotional affair has been strictly online, realize you do not truly know this person, nor do they know you. The attraction you feel is based on a persona that is easy to maintain from behind a screen, but often quickly melts away in the face of real life.

If the emotional affair is with someone you know in real life, then you have to decide what leads you down the path of cheating on your significant other. Is it worth throwing away your relationship or marriage to have this person in your life? If you decide to break off the affair, you have to be committed to following through. You cannot continue to have a relationship with this person but stop the emotional cheating. It is an all or nothing proposition.