The traditional definition of cheating, or infidelity, is
that one person in a committed relationship is physically
involved with someone other than their spouse. Due to a
number of factors, cheating behavior has been reclassified
to include the traditional definition and a more
contemporary definition, known as emotional infidelity.
The Definition of Emotional Infidelity
Emotional infidelity is defined as any infidelity that
occurs through feeling or thought. During the late 1970s,
in an interview with Playboy magazine, former President
Jimmy Carter stated that occasionally he “lusted in (his)
heart” for women other than his wife. His thoughts were
equated with infidelity, and he was considered to be
unfaithful to his marriage, even though his statement
described emotional infidelity, not physical infidelity.
Since that time, and with the technological development of
cell phones and the internet, the definition of cheating has
been expanded to include the traditional definition, plus
the feelings and/or thoughts that comprise emotional
infidelity. Cheating now includes having intimate
correspondence with someone while on a cell phone,
meeting someone over the Internet and maintaining a
relationship, or viewing pornographic material through
any available source.
The Difference Between Traditional Cheating and Emotional Infidelity
The primary difference between traditional cheating and
emotional infidelity is actual, physical contact.
Traditionally, cheating involves people meeting face to
face, and then engaging in physical intimacy. With
emotional infidelity, there may be a meeting, but it can
occur on a cell phone or a computer. There may be physical
activity involved, but it is conducted within the confines of
separate locations; the people involved aren’t “actually” touching.
Many of the people who are emotionally cheating don’t consider
it to be infidelity. Their rationale is that, because there is no
actual physical contact, the behavior can’t be considered cheating.
For some people, there is no difference between traditional
and emotional infidelity. They view emotional infidelity as
having the same behavioral components and end result as
traditional cheating; therefore, any perceived differences
are a moot point. When someone cheats, they use flirtation,
discussion, seduction, and discretion – regardless of where
either person is located or what vehicle of communication
they are using. The end result is that the unfaithful spouse is
paying emotional and/or physical attention to someone other
than their partner, and they are removing themselves from the
Emotional Intimacy Can Lead To Physical Intimacy
Emotional infidelity begins with the exchange of personal
information. As the people involved get acquainted, the
information exchanged becomes more personal. When the
information becomes personal, it can lead to a face-to-face
meeting and, most likely, physical intimacy. It can be argued
that emotional infidelity is harmless because it is more of a
casual relationship than traditional cheating; however, the
intimate nature of the communication, plus the emotional
investment made by the people involved, places emotional
infidelity on the same level as traditional cheating.
Considering the wide-reaching capabilities of the internet,
the continuing advancement of cell phone technology, and the
various other communication devices available, the number of
people engaged in emotional infidelity will only increase. People
cannot be stopped from engaging in an illicit affair, but they
should consider the effect that cheating will have on the spouse.
They should also consider the possible consequences of
emotional infidelity, which can be the same as those of traditional
infidelity, including divorce.