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It can be hard to tell the difference between an emotional affair and a physical one. There may not be obvious signs, like time breaks that can't be explained or the smell of perfume or cologne on their clothes. Still, not being physically close to someone does not mean that they are faithful. Read on to find out about the best way to catch a cheater, and learn to spot an emotional affair.

RELATED: IS FLIRTING CHEATING?

In some cases, an emotional affair can hurt a relationship more than a physical one.

While your partner may not engage in physical intimacy with another individual during an emotional affair, it can serve as a precursor to a physical affair. Establishing an emotional connection with someone may lead the cheater to develop deeper feelings, potentially prompting them to leave their partner for their emotional confidant. This is perhaps why 60% of adults equate emotional infidelity with physical cheating.

Emotional affairs are on the rise, with men more likely to engage in them than women. In a recent survey of married couples, 20% reported grappling with emotional infidelity, with 35% of wives and 45% of husbands admitting to emotional cheating.

So, what exactly constitutes an emotional affair, and how to catch your spouse cheating on you emotionally?

What Is an Emotional Affair?

An emotional affair involves a romantic connection of the heart, devoid of physical intimacy, yet often a precursor to full-fledged infidelity.

An emotional affair can masquerade as a close friendship but with an undercurrent of sexual tension. In the throes of an emotional affair, you might exchange texts with another person and conceal these messages from your spouse, even if they lack explicit or sexual content.

Those embroiled in emotional cheating often find themselves thinking more about this other person than their partner. They might confide in this individual about their partner and begin comparing the two.

Perhaps the emotional affair originated at work, as 60% of such affairs do. You may deliberately create opportunities to spend extra time with this person and find excuses to contact them. Your interactions become increasingly flirtatious and tactile, characterized by hugs upon meeting and casual touches during conversations. Initially, it all seems like harmless fun.

Over time, you may begin to wonder what life would be like if this person replaced your partner. You might contemplate the experience of being in a relationship with them. In some cases, you might even feel jealousy toward their significant other and resentment toward your own.

However, the most telling sign of emotional cheating is secrecy. If you believe your partner would be upset if they witnessed your interactions with this other person, deep down, you recognize that you're engaging in something inappropriate.

Emotional Affair Red Flags

Suspect that your partner is involved in an emotional affair? Looking for ways to catch a cheater? Keep an eye out for these signs:

Guarded About Their Phone

Whether they are emotionally cheating or physically cheating, the proof is often in their phone. So, they'll always have their phone close by and use multiple passwords to keep things secret.

If you try to use their phone or ask about it, they might get angry and grab it quickly. On the other hand, if you look at their messages or call history, it might be strangely empty, which could mean they've deleted proof.

Constantly on Their Mind

When your partner can't stop thinking about someone, it's hard for them not to talk about that person. It almost happens on its own. When you're fixated on someone, discussing them becomes second nature.

If your partner talks a lot about a new, mysterious person, it could be a sign of emotional cheating, especially if they compare you to the other person's partner or say bad things about them.

Altered Physical Appearance

Has your partner recently changed their wardrobe or invested more effort into their appearance? They might have adopted a new fragrance, started hitting the gym when they were previously content with a sedentary lifestyle, or made other conspicuous adjustments.

Withdrawal and Moodiness

Have you noticed your partner becoming more withdrawn and moody? Perhaps you perceive a growing emotional chasm between you two, with date nights punctuated by awkward silences rather than laughter.

As your partner spends more mental energy on other things, your relationship may suffer. This could lead to more fights and a feeling like you're always walking on eggshells.

When people start comparing their partners to other people, it's common for the other person to become an ideal. They don't have to deal with the daily grind and flaws that make long-term relationships what they are.

A relationship psychologist Jennifer Pearson says that emotional affairs can be just as harmful as physical ones because people don't always notice them. "In spite of what most people think, having emotional connections outside of a relationship can lead to stronger feelings and eventually cheating. Even if there aren't any obvious signs like perfume or cologne, emotional cheating can be seen in changes in behavior, like being careful with phones, being preoccupied with someone else, looking different, and pulling away from the current relationship. It's important to deal with these signs right away to keep the relationship from getting worse."

If you suspect emotional infidelity, trust your instincts. Take action if necessary, as emotional cheating can be just as damaging as physical infidelity.

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