Cheating on a significant other does not always have to yield a steamy kiss or a sexual encounter with another person. It may not even require touching them.
In its most sinister form, cheating is finding comfort and passion with a person that is not your significant other. This person occupies all your thoughts. You find that you’re constantly reassuring yourself that you are “just friends,” while at the same time you fantasize about being with them, conjuring any excuse you can to be with them — even if that means prioritizing the person over your significant other. You’re also confident that if the opportunity for love with this person ever presented itself, you would take it. This is what psychologists call an emotional affair.
The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy reports that 35 percent of wives and 45 percent of husbands have engaged in emotional affairs. Why do so many of us end up taking our eyes off of our special someone?
Perhaps the fear of failing at relationships or being a poor significant other can hinder us from communicating our needs. Although emotional affairs do not explicitly plague troubled relationships, couples that have difficulty working through obstacles together may be more susceptible, or at least more tempted, to engage in an affair as an escape. It’s much more comfortable than openly divulging your dissatisfaction to your partner and coming to the realization that either you or your partner has somehow made a mistake. The fear of failure or somehow being a “bad” significant other can be enough to silence how we truly feel.
So what happens when a person in a relationship develops genuine interest in and chemistry with another? Rather than stifling their feelings, they should try to understand why they are attracted to this person and whether their needs, wants and desires are being met through this new infatuation. An emotional affair may help a partner understand the flaws in their relationship and give them the confidence to re-evaluate what they want.
An emotional affair may also reassure a person of the good in their current relationship and help them develop ways to reintroduce the excitement and passion of a new relationship. By allowing a person to play out a fantasy, they may even find that leaving their current partner is not worth it.
However, there is an alternative to indulging these fantasies that will evade the dishonest, hurtful and unfair repercussions of an emotional affair. The key to combating an emotional affair is honesty, coming clean about the situation in the first place and communicating any dissatisfaction within a relationship. While it’s completely normal for a partner to feel jealous, angry or offended with this truth, a couple should work past these initial reactions to discover what has led them down this path.
For college students immersed in a hookup culture, it can be particularly difficult and even impractical to remain monogamous. The idea of spending our social golden years with one or two people can be daunting, even for people who are exclusive monogamists, such as myself. It’s perfectly normal to be attracted to another person and more common than we choose to believe.
Rather than indulging in an affair, consider taking a break from your significant other, either to learn more about yourself and what you value in a partner, or to explore other types of people. Don’t let the fear of maintaining a relationship compromise your happiness. A person is entitled to achieve their goals as long as they come from a place of respect, honesty and realistic expectations.
Kristen DiPietra is a junior double-majoring in English and human development.