Emotional Infidelity: A Woman’s Perspective (2024)

Even though most people think that men are more likely to cheat, that’s not what the Center for Researching & Understanding Sexual Health (CRUSH) found in their "Pulling the Covers Back: Why Do We Cheat?" report. While 53 percent of men cheated on one romantic partner in their lifetime, 55 percent of women did the same. In other words, there was no statistically significant difference between genders regarding cheating.

Emotional Infidelity: A Woman’s Perspective (1)

Person contemplating divorce after finding out about an emotional affair.

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Infidelity, of course, comes in many forms. Many affairs may end in a sexual relationship, but they don’t always start there. Furthermore, some affairs never make it to physical intimacy. They begin and end with emotional infidelity, which is engaging in emotional closeness with someone other than your partner in ways that violate your relationship boundaries.

Emotional infidelity looks different for each relationship, but here are some signs:

  • Flirting
  • Sharing secrets and private information that you would/should only share with your partner (e.g., what you argue about, what you aren’t getting from your current relationship)
  • Daydreaming about what it would be like to be in a romantic relationship with the other person
  • Having sexually explicit conversations (e.g., sexting, sending revealing/nude photos, having phone/video sex)

Carter et al. (2021) found that 73 percent of women endorsed flirting as one of the two top cheating behaviors (the top cheating behavior was kissing).

Buss (2013) found that men and women experience jealousy when they find out their partners cheated. Still, the type of cheating yielded different responses. Men experience stronger jealous feelings when the infidelity is sexual, whereas women experience stronger jealousy when emotional infidelity is involved.

Why Women Have Emotional Affairs

One of the driving factors in why women cheat is because they have an emotional void. Carol,* 62, from Tacoma, WA, shared that verbal abuse and sexual infidelity were hallmarks of her first marriage. Her emotional affair began organically with someone who was kind and listened to her.

Laneise, 32, from Chesapeake, VA, had similar reasons. Her father was dying, and her husband was emotionally disconnected from her family (specifically her mother who needed help caring for her father) and their children. Despite begging for support, he didn’t offer what she needed, and she connected with a co-worker who “was there for me while I grieved and my husband was not.”

Of course, there are other reasons women have emotional affairs, like retaliation—getting back at their partner who has already admitted to or been caught having an affair. Some women cite a lack of emotional maturity and the need for attention as the primary reasons for their emotional affairs. While it is much less common, some people cheat simply because the opportunity is there.


  • The Challenges of Infidelity
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The Impact of Emotional Affairs

As you can imagine, any affair can devastate a relationship. Emotional affairs are often harder to navigate when the partner finds receipts. With sexual affairs, it’s hard to see what physically transpired during the affair. Having physical evidence of the sexual encounter is less likely than having physical evidence of emotional affairs.

Finding love letters, which would more likely be sent via email or text nowadays, can be a dagger in the heart. The “I’m in love with you” and “I can’t breathe without you” messages solidify the relationship in your mind—they make it more real. They also explicitly give voice to your partner’s true feelings, which can be downright painful.

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The good news, at least for women in heterosexual relationships, is that men are less likely to leave their relationships after an emotional affair. Walsh et al. (2019) found that men were more likely to abandon their partners after sexual infidelity, not emotional infidelity. Unfortunately, for men and lesbians, women were the opposite—they were more likely to abandon their partners after an emotional affair.

If you find yourself emotionally attracted to someone other than your partner, it’s crucial that you step back and identify the basis of your attraction. Are you lonely? Do they compliment you? Is it novelty (i.e., something new, different, and exciting)? Simply put, what need would this emotional affair fulfill?

Once you determine that, be open and honest with your partner about that need. In Laneise’s case, she asked for what she needed emotionally, and her husband couldn’t or wouldn’t offer her support. Many times, we don’t directly identify what we need. We want our partners to know what we need—to be so tuned in with us that they anticipate our needs and fulfill them. Your partner is human and, therefore, prone to being wrapped up in self. Sharing that you need more romance or more date nights may be just the jolt they need to remind them to feed the relationship.

Sometimes, we must directly share our needs to give our partners a fair shot at addressing them.

*Personal stories were submitted via CRUSH Groupies, a Facebook group dedicated to discussing sexual health and intimacy issues in a safe place. The details have been changed to protect the identities of contributors.


Buss, D. M. (2013). Jealousy. Psychological Topics, 22, 155–182.

Carter, L., Edwards, A., & Ruiz, S. (2021, October 1). Pulling the covers back: Why do we cheat? Cheating details report. Center for Researching & Understanding Sexual Health.

Walsh, M., Millar, M., & Westfall, R. S. (2019). Sex differences in responses to emotional and sexual infidelity in dating relationships. Journal of Individual Differences, 40(2), 63–70.

Emotional Infidelity: A Woman’s Perspective (2024)
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