If There is No Sex, is it Considered Cheating?

Amanda Caswell
February 3, 2020

Infidelity is the breaking of a promise to stay faithful to a sexual partner. That promise could have been uttered privately in an agreement between lovers, or legally made through marriage vows. But when one partner strays and becomes emotionally engaged to a person outside the relationship, even without being sexually active, the lines can become blurred. If this sounds like a situation you have found yourself in, keep reading to learn why it’s possible this is happening to you and how you can save your relationship. 


The problem with emotional infidelity is that it starts very simple. In fact, in most cases, it begins relatively innocently. You feel good when you’re with the person, you have enjoyable conversations, you put a little extra effort into your appearance, and you may even casually flirt. The person gets you. So, what‘s the problem? If there is no sex, is it cheating? After all, it could be the start of an incredibly lovely and innocent friendship. Unfortunately, statistics are not on your side. It’s more than likely the beginning of the end of your marriage. With more than 40 percent of marriages never making it to the 30th anniversary, emotional cheating can be a slippery slope. Even if a person hasn’t had a physical affair yet, there’s a good chance they might. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships discovered that the average person has approximately a 42% chance of cheating on their partner. Yet, when it came to their partners, participants believed that there was only approximately a 5% chance that their partner had already cheated on them, while also believing there was only about an 8% chance that they would cheat on them in the future.  According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 25 percent of married men and 15 percent of married women have had sexual extramarital affairs, and that number is 20 percent higher when an emotional relationship without intercourse is included.

Differences Between an Emotional Relationship and a Platonic Friendship

An emotional affair is when a person in a relationship invests more of their emotional energy into a companion outside of their marriage and receives emotional support in return. An individual in an emotional affair feels much closer to their new companion and may even feel chemistry or sexual tension between them. Cheaters in an emotional affair often feel guilt-free because there is no sex involved in the relationship. However, their spouses see the affair as just as damaging as a sexual affair. And in many cases, it is.

Research published by the Association for Psychological Science shows how jealously affects men and women differently. For instance, women feel guiltier when they cheat emotionally, and men feel guiltier when they cheat sexually. The study discovered that women who fall in love with someone would more than likely feel guiltier than if they tried different sexual positions with the same person. Additionally, published research in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology shows that men would be more upset if their partner was having a sexual relationship with another person without falling in love with them. On the other hand, most women say they’d be more upset if their partner had fallen in love with someone else but hadn’t slept with that person. Although painful, physical affairs don’t require deep romantic feelings, which can make emotional affairs feel deeply personal. They indicate to your significant other that you find someone more exciting than them.

A platonic relationship between a man and a woman is possible. Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland, found that 75% of men and 65% of women have or currently are having nonsexual friendships with the opposite gender. Unfortunately, when intimate and private information is shared and companionship becomes emotional to the point where it crosses the boundaries set by the married couple, a platonic friendship can grow into something more. It can quickly become an emotional affair. While a platonic friendship is something a spouse might know about, an emotional affair remains a secret. It also feels different than a platonic relationship because both parties typically have a sexual attraction to the other person – regardless of whether it is acknowledged. And as with most things in life, if it feels wrong, it probably isn’t right. An emotional affair opens a door that should otherwise remain shut.

Reasons Why an Emotional Affair Might be Worse Than a Sexual Affair

Emotional affairs can be a lot harder to end. Unlike a sexual affair where you stop seeing the person, an emotional affair involves feelings for the person that can be hard to stop. Even after you stop seeing the person directly, the person is still inside your head and fills a space in your heart. Chances are if you’ve had an emotional affair you’ve spent countless hours thinking about the person. Those feelings don’t simply go away once you decide it’s time to end the affair. In terms of healing your aching heart, you must remember that it’s not always easy to do the right thing, but doing the hardest thing can make you even stronger.

 Beyond filling your free time with engaging activities, new thoughts, and quality time with your spouse, you will need to seek the help of a professional counselor to completely heal after an emotional affair. A licensed therapist can direct you when addressing your affair with your spouse, guide you throughout the healing process, and help to repair your marriage. In terms of healing emotional wounds that may linger for the companion and new ones developing for your troubled marriage, the process can be a long one. Having the guidance of a trained professional will make the situation easier for both you and your spouse, and may even strengthen your marriage. According to the American Psychological Association, roughly 50% of distressed relationships show improved and more satisfying marriages from couples counseling. An additional 10% to 20% will remain a couple even if the unhappiness persists. Licensed couples counselors regularly use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) as an effective form of therapy that focuses on adult relationships, attachment, and bonding.

Cheating Might Be in Your Genetics

While it certainly doesn’t justify emotional affairs, it might help to explain your feelings. Surprisingly, your genes may influence how likely you are to stray emotionally and eventually sexually. Research shows that some people are genetically predisposed to being unfaithful based on their biology. For instance, one study published in the Journal of Evolution and Human Behavior, by the University of Queensland, says that infidelity was more common among people who had specific types of vasopressin receptor genes and oxytocin in their makeup. Vasopressin is a hormone related to social behaviors including love, sexual bonding, empathy, and trust. According to the results of that study, a stunning 62% of instances in men and 40% of instances of infidelity in women had to do with genetics. Talk to your therapist if you have a family history of cheating. This will help in the treatment of an emotional affair.

Warning Signs You Are Having an Emotional Affair

If you are reading this, chances are you already feel like you are having an emotional affair. Your gut may even be telling you. The problem is, an emotional affair can be hard to define. For those who might be in an emotional affair, here are a few red flags that may indicate it’s time to reevaluate that friendship you are having outside of your marriage. For starters, you have withdrawn from your spouse. They don’t excite you like they once did, and you simply don’t feel as though you have much in common with them. Intimacy, either sexually or emotionally, may have stopped and you may find yourself anticipating when you will see or communicate with your friend again. You may become preoccupied with daydreaming about your friend more often and wish you were with them during the times you are with your spouse. You might be in an emotional affair if you no longer want to spend time with your spouse and find yourself drifting apart from them. You may find reasons to give your friend gifts rather than your spouse and overall feel as though they understand you so much better. Most of all, you are keeping your friendship a secret from your spouse. Similarly, if you notice your spouse seems withdrawn and uninterested, they are spending more time on their phone texting or emailing, spending more time on their appearance, or seem to be hiding something, they might be having an emotional affair.

How to Protect Your Marriage from an Emotional Affair

Numerous marriages have been saved after emotional affairs. But there are certain guidelines that the cheater and the spouse need to follow once the infidelity has been discovered. The cheater needs to feel remorse and have the urge to change their behavior and life. The victim needs to not only be sure the cheater has stopped their bad behavior but trust them enough to fully heal. Trust is a major foundation for building a strong emotional connection between partners, which is imperative for a relationship to be healthy and long lasting.

Regardless of who is cheating, both people in the relationship need to work together to save the marriage and protect it from happening again. Both people need to build a strong foundation of trust and friendship for the relationship to continue. Marriage and relationships are hard work, so if you want to make yours last, you need to put in the effort. Nurture your marriage. Be thoughtful, respectful, and regularly say, “I love you.” Know your spouse’s needs – and ask if you are unsure. Make your life’s work to consistently make your partner happy. You can do that by taking care of yourself and being transparent about your own needs. Being honest and open will encourage your spouse to do the same. Always turn to your spouse first rather than sharing your vulnerability with someone outside of your marriage. Make a point to avoid sharing your deepest feelings and thoughts with anyone who isn’t your first confidant. Even if you tend to have a fun and flirty personality, don’t touch, tease or flirt with members of the opposite sex. Make time for your spouse, have long conversations, and go out on dates. By doing the above you will continually build and maintain trust with your spouse.

If you have tried all the above and still find that you are feeling emotionally attached or physically drawn to a person outside of your marriage, it might be time for couples counseling . The convenience of online couples counseling makes it easier to work on your marriage. You and your spouse can do it right from the comfort of your own home with the flexibility of finding time in each of your schedules. If you would prefer to be in the same room as the therapist, there are many professionals out there to help.

Amanda Caswell

Amanda is a wellness writer & enthusiast with over 12 years experience writing in the industry. She has a bachelors degree in Creative Writing from NYU. She is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American School of Nutrition & Personal Training. Amanda is also a celebrity publicist.