What is the Difference Between Emotional and Physical Cheating: How To Handle It

Being cheated on is the worst feeling in a relationship. However, not all cheating is the same. Emotional and physical cheating are different, but they can certainly have the same impact. Where is the line between the two? Is either type okay? I’ll teach you everything you need to know about the differences and how to handle them.

What is the difference between emotional and physical cheating? The most significant difference between emotional and physical cheating is that one puts your sexual health at risk. Ultimately both can damage you mentally, and neither is acceptable. You deserve better. However, coping with them is slightly different since you can’t get an unexpected STD from an emotional cheater. 

Physical Vs. Emotional Cheating: Legal Difference

It might surprise you to discover that the law has something to say about mental and physical infidelity. Yet there are legal distinctions for virtually everything these days. If you’re dealing with a cheater in your marriage, divorce is likely on your mind.

Unfortunately, to make a case for adultery in some states, cheating has to be physical. Virginia, for example, is particularly tough on the distinction. They require ‘clear and convincing evidence’ of sexual intercourse.

Moreover, you have to corroborate the evidence. Saying it happened is not enough. You’ll need testimony from an outside source. If you’re lucky, the guilty spouse or their cheating partner will feel bad enough to ‘fess up.

According to Livesay & Meyers divorce attorneys, “To qualify as a divorce ground, your spouse’s affair must have become physical—culminating in sexual intercourse. Mental or emotional affairs do not count. Being overly familiar with a new friend at work is not enough. Proving adultery means proving sexual intercourse.”

Coping With Emotional Infidelity

Although the law may not recognize it as ‘adultery,’ emotional infidelity can and does destroy marriages and families. Some relationships can move beyond an affair, and when it’s non-physical, that may help. However, this is not always the case.

When your partner has been seeing or communicating with someone and bonding outside the relationship in a destructive emotional way, it hurts. Common reactions for the injured party include jealousy, anger, a sense of loss, depression, resentment, and loss of self-esteem.

There are two different steps you need to take to survive this type of cheating. First, you need personal help with your reactions. Simply ‘letting it happen’ will cause you far more damage in the long run than getting assistance to deal with your emotional state.

Secondly, you need to resolve the issue within your relationship. Some states have no-fault divorce policies. That means you can end the marriage without an explanation if you so choose. However, should you decide to stay, you will both need therapy. Couples counseling is part of it, but you’ll also need separate support to move past the cheating.

Staying Together Vs. Divorce

Especially when the cheating is ‘only’ emotional, it can be harder to explain or handle. You have the right and the responsibility to end a relationship that s destructive to your wellbeing. However, divorce is a final choice, and not one to enter into lightly.

You need to weigh the pros and cons as a couple. Although you need to take the necessary time to process what happened, if you can’t eventually come together maturely to discuss the next steps, there probably isn’t anything to save.

If you can both come together and move forward toward healing, then you might save your marriage. Ignoring and suppressing a cheating incident is not healthy. The partner who stepped outside the relationship needs to atone. They have to recognize they were wrong and work to repair it.

Otherwise, a separation or significant change in your marriage is necessary. Some couples opt to forgo divorce and simply live separate lives. Sometimes they do this for financial reasons. Meanwhile, other couples choose a distant marriage for social causes like minimizing the impact on children and business relationships.

Ultimately, the choice about how to deal with any infidelity is up to you and your partner. You are not obligated to agree, but the result will impact both of your lives.

Physical Cheating & Sexual Health

The defining factor in physical cheating is sexual contact. Whether it’s ‘just’ kissing or full intercourse, touching of an intimate nature is physical cheating. Unless you have an open relationship, then it’s infidelity.

Beyond the emotional toll that cheating takes, there’s another vital risk to consider. A partner who cheats may cut you off sexually. Strangely, that’s safer. Unfortunately, when your partner is interacting with you and someone else sexually, they are risking your life.

The chances of contracting an STI (sexually transmitted infection) or an STD (sexually transmitted disease) depend on several factors. For example, the risk of transmission is higher with unprotected sexual contact than with condoms. Additionally, the risks for oral, vaginal, and anal sex also vary depending on the disease.

Common STDs

There are dozens of sexually transmitted infections and diseases you can contract. Some are curable, like pubic lice (crabs), while others are not like HIV/AIDS.

  • Chlamydia- You have a thirty percent chance of contracting this from an infected partner every time you have sex.
  • Crabs AKA Pubic Lice- If your cheating partner gets crabs, you don’t even need to have sex to get them too. Crabs can jump.
  • Hepatitis- Though not as transmissible as some diseases, Hep A, B, and C are not preventable through condom use.
  • HIV/AIDS- For men, the chances of getting aids from an infected partner (having sex just once) are about one in nine-hundred and nine. However, circumcised men have a much higher risk, one in a hundred and sixty-one.
  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)- HPV in long term relationships runs about a twenty percent chance of infection over six months of regular sexual activity.
  • Genital Herpes- While men run a reasonably low risk, around four percent, as a woman, the chances of contracting herpes is seven to thirty-one percent.
  • Gonorrhea- Roughly one in two-hundred people will contract gonorrhea. That may seem like a slim chance, but in reality, it’s millions of people each year.
  • Mycoplasma Genitalium- This lesser-known STI is very common. The infection rate is between 20.6%–66.7%.
  • Scabies- These minuscule mites are contagious even before you notice them, and so highly transmissible that you’re all but guaranteed to get them if you encounter scabies.
  • Syphilis- Eighty million Americans have Syph, and around fourteen million new cases occur every year.
  • Trichomoniasis- It’s hard to determine how many people get Trich because as many as seventy percent don’t show symptoms. More importantly, one in five gets reinfected after treatment.

If you suspect infidelity, there’s a simple test that might help. The Crime Scene Infidelity Test Kit can identify semen anywhere. If your wife left a mess in her laundry, or your husband has a crunchy spot in the backseat of his car, these clever little tests can tell you if it’s male ejaculate. Learn more about the Infidelity Test Kit on Amazon

How to Identify Cheating

Before you go into the full-blown coping mode for physical or emotional cheating, you should make sure that it’s happening. All relationships have highs and lows. Moreover, some partners are more invested in their outside friendships. That’s healthy, and not a problem.

Jealous and possessive partners may overreact to normal interactions. Though none of us likes to admit we may be exaggerating, you need to assure yourself that you’re treating the right problem. Infidelity is a romantic-emotional or sexually physical relationship with someone outside a monogamous relationship.

Stats & Facts About Cheating

If your spouse is scoping out dating sites or staying after work to ‘make out’ with their co-workers, that’s cheating. However, if they look at another person, smile, and behave nicely, and that person is attractive, it’s not cheating. That’s a perfectly normal reaction to an attractive human being.

Roughly sixty percent of affairs happen with co-workers. Whether emotional or physical, the prolonged, close contact can lead to desire. While desire doesn’t constitute cheating by itself, acting on it certainly does.

If you suspect your partner cheats at home, while you’re away, invest in the eHomful Mini Spy Camera from Amazon. This portable one-inch cube can help provide proof or settle your mind with photo and video capabilities. Plus, it’s super-easy to hide. To learn more, click here. 

Signs of Cheating

Although some of these signs can be a part of healthy behavior, when combined, you are likely looking at a cheat.

  • Sudden or growing emotional distance- Distance can be a result of depression, stress, or other factors.
  • Lack of interest in sex- This can also happen for rational reasons like menopause or low testosterone.
  • Secret phone calls and texts- This is usually a big ‘red flag,’ however, sweet spouses may also be planning a surprise for you.
  • Defensive and secretive behavior- Sadly, this can also be the typical result of feeling smothered within a relationship.
  • Keeping odd hours- Nights away from home, leaving bed at night to make calls or spend time on the computer and other suspicious behavior may be a warning of physical or emotional infidelity.
  • Deleting or hiding information- A spouse who wipes their phone and computer history too regularly probably has a secret. Then again, they may be suffering from paranoia.

If you need to retrieve data from a wiped drive, you can do it at home easily. The ResQstick PC Recovery USB is made for regular people. You don’t need advanced technical knowledge to reclaim deleted hard drive info that your partner deleted. To get yours from Amazon, click here. 

One of the best ways to prevent cheating in relationships is having clear lines of communication. You and your partner both have to be mature enough to express your needs, thoughts, and feelings healthily. Without this skill, your risk of cheating or being the victim of a cheat is much higher.

Final Thoughts

Always be cautious before accusing a partner of cheating. However, it’s not something you should ignore. When the signs are there, you need to protect yourself and work toward processing and healing.

Most victims of cheating experience all the stages of grief; Hence, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are all normal responses. Recognizing them can help you to move forward.

Whether you end the relationship or seek therapeutic intervention, you must take action. Suppressing your response to cheating will make it worse later. You’re worth it, so get help sooner.


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