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How to tell if your partner is having an emotional affair or if you're just too jealous

According to therapist Rachel Wright, the phrase "emotional cheating" is often used in a toxic manner to cover up feelings of jealousy.

© Crystal Cox/Business Insider

By Julia Naftulin, INSIDER

  • People use the phrase "emotional affair" to describe when someone is unfaithful to their partner in a non-physical way.
  • But "emotional affair" has no agreed-upon definition, which can make discerning one from jealousy difficult.
  • Therapist Rachel Wright told Insider that couples need to define "emotional cheating" for themselves and be able to discern a true betrayal from uncomfortable feelings like jealousy.


The term "emotional affair" has become a buzzy way to describe when someone has a non-physical but emotionally close connection with someone other than their partner. 

But there's no consensus on what emotional cheating entails, which can cause confusion over whether your partner is crossing boundaries, or if you're overreacting to their other perfectly normal relationships.

That's why Rachel Wright, a New York City-based therapist, said she's not a fan of the phrase.

"I find the concept of an emotional affair to be very toxic," Wright said.

She added that the concept tends to focus on heterosexual and monogamous couples and comes off as "incredibly biased." It suggests that couples can't have close friendships outside of their relationships without deceiving their partners, which isn't true.

Despite the gray area that is emotional cheating, there are ways to tell whether your partner has crossed a line, or if you're jealous and overreacting, Wright said. That begins with defining what an "emotional affair" means to you.


'Emotional affair' means different things to different people

Before you get upset with your partner, it's important to understand what you consider emotional cheating, since definitions can vary from person to person, Wright said.

Once you have your own definition, talk to your partner about it and see if it matches with their definition. If it doesn't, it's important you come to an agreement together.

If you're unsure how to define the term, Wright suggested thinking about what would make you uncomfortable if it happened in your relationship.

It's a betrayal for your partner to break a relationship rule you established together. For example: that you don't want to talk about your arguments with other people. But spending time with friends likely isn't one of them.

Be aware that there's a fine line between setting boundaries with your partner and having control over them and their life.


Understand the 'why' of your jealousy

You should think about where your feelings stem from, according to Wright. "Instead of 'We need to put rules in place so I don't feel this,' it's like, 'Oh, let's look at why I'm feeling jealous and try to solve the root of the problem,'" she said.

Jealousy pops up in all relationships. Sit with it, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel. According to Wright, jealousy can stem from insecurity, fear of abandonment, or feeling like your relationship is lacking.

Once you better understand the "why" of your jealousy, you can talk to your partner about how to solve it in a way that honors your relationship, and the relationships you have with others in your lives.

If, for example, you realize your jealousy stems from wishing your partner spent more time with you, you could express that need with them and set up regular date nights. That way, you get more time with your partner without suggesting their other relationships are detract from yours.


If your partner seems more distant than usual, it could be an emotional affair

There are a few signs that your partner could be having an emotional affair.

If you notice a lag in conversations you'd typically have with your partner, they seem more distant than usual, or they're talking to someone a lot and not telling you who it is, it could mean they're seeking a romantic connection elsewhere, according to Wright.

"The intention behind the action means a lot in this case," because these actions suggest your partner is outsourcing their romantic needs, which you didn't agree to. "It's a change in behavior that affects the relationship," Wright said.

To confront your partner about emotional cheating, Wright said to focus on how it affects you rather than saying your partner is doing something wrong.

Something like, "I feel disconnected from you and have noticed you've been guarded around your phone lately. Why is that?" can highlight the physical change you've observed and how it's affected you personally.

See more at INSIDER

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Love Magazine: How to tell if your partner is having an emotional affair or if you're just too jealous
How to tell if your partner is having an emotional affair or if you're just too jealous
According to therapist Rachel Wright, the phrase "emotional cheating" is often used in a toxic manner to cover up feelings of jealousy.
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