Most people have committed emotional infidelity at some point—an affair of the heart, without physically cheating on a significant other—and women may be more guilty than men. Research involving 90,000 men and women found that 78.6 percent of men and 91.6 percent of women admitted to having an emotional affair.
Simply put, everyone is having an emotional affair without you. “The epidemic of emotional affairs coincides with a tendency that we have noticed for people in long-term relationships to defend themselves psychologically,” psychologist Mark Borg told Fatherly. “That is, ironically protect themselves from anxiety-provoking aspects of love.”
The surprising findings come from a group of experts conducting ongoing research on how men and women lie, cheat, and deceive those they love the most. The raw numbers for the results of a number of surveys about cheating, betrayal, compulsive lying, indecent and recovery are publicly available and updated daily. The “Cheating Spouse” quiz currently has well over 91,000 respondents, with about 66 percent of respondents being women.
This is where emotional infidelity statistics appear to be the highest at over 90 percent among women, but it’s important to note that this data has not been published in a peer reviewed journal or been subject to any demographic controls. But it is illustrative of a possible trend. One reason women may be more likely to have emotional affairs is similar to the reason men are more likely to cheat physically. Men tend to have more physical needs, whereas women have more emotional ones. “Emotional affairs are often the result of people acting out in ways that allow them to endure and tolerate the painful feelings of being isolated in long-term love,” Borg says.
A more robust study found that social media platforms like Facebook have led to rise in back-burner spouses, particularly backup husbands among women. Still, psychologist Jeanette Raymond suspects that emotional infidelity has always been common. The main difference is now people are talking about it more. “It’s not new or surprising,” Raymond told Fatherly. “I don’t think couples transition from the initial romantic bubble into real life in a way that allows them to foster the kind of emotional intimacy necessary to prevent emotional affairs.”
Experts agree that there’s a significant difference between a friendship with a person of the opposite sex and an emotional affair—if the word affair is being used at all, it’s likely that someone is filling a role meant for someone else. If ignored, this can be as damaging as a physical affair. But if addressed, potentially with the help of a therapist, many couples can come back from an emotional affair and know that it’s something plenty of people struggle with.
“Many relationships need ways to establish and send calls for help,” Borg says. “An emotional affair is not the most toxic way that a couple can send and respond to a call for help and work together to reestablish a sense of safety and intimacy in their relationship.”