Each case of infidelity is different, but there are two broad types of cheating. The first is physical, in which bodily contact plays the key role. In contrast, emotional cheating is focused on deep feelings, mutual support, or intellectual compatibility. Many people wonder which form is worse, especially when they discover that their partner has engaged in one form of infidelity but not the other. Here’s what you need to consider.
Within the category of physical cheating there are several further types of infidelity, and both the type and frequency may determine how painful or meaningful an episode of cheating appears to be. Physical cheating may involve making one with someone else, having a one night stand, engaging in a series of sexual encounters or agreeing to sexual intimacy without penetrative sex. Further, different couples might draw the line in different places. For example, one husband might think it is fun and sexy if his wife kisses another woman, while another man might be appalled to hear that his wife has kissed anyone else.
Emotional cheating is harder to define than physical cheating and is even more dependent on the individual agreements of a specific couple. At one end of the spectrum, some couples may feel that emotional infidelity has taken place if their partner goes to someone else for more consistent and meaningful support. For others, emotional cheating is reserved for cases in which a partner forms a significant romantic attachment to someone new, especially if that attachment is mutual. In some cases, people even engage in emotional infidelity over the internet without ever meeting the person who has become so important.
What’s Worse – Emotional or Physical Cheating?
It’s pretty clear that the worst type of infidelity would most likely involve a combination of physical and emotional cheating. After all, it’s devastating to learn that your partner has chosen to go elsewhere for both bodily and psychological intimacy. However, suppose you find out your partner has engaged in just one type of infidelity–is it better for the cheating to be physical or emotional?
Once again, context is significant. Interestingly, some recent studies suggest that men find the idea of their partners engaging in physical cheating to be more offensive and threatening, while women are typically more upset at the thought of a partner’s emotional betrayal. Additionally, the location of cracks in your self-esteem can influence your assessment. If you know you are attractive, but worry that you are not that smart or funny, emotional infidelity may sting as a result of reinforcing your worries. Meanwhile, if you’re confident about your role as a great companion and emotional rock but have doubts about whether you are a good lover, physical infidelity may deal a deadly blow to your relationship.
All of the ambiguity and subtlety surrounding cheating highlights that making specific agreements with your partner is of the utmost importance. Your background assumptions about infidelity may not be the same as theirs, and laying mutual acceptance groundwork can help to prevent future heartache.