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Understanding the Different Types of Infidelity

bigstock-134313788The expectation of exclusivity and monogamy is common, although not always adhered to in a marriage or long-term relationship. When this expectation isn’t met, emotional damage can occur, including feelings of severe anger or rage. Some people experience a sense of betrayal and loss of trust in their partner while some lose a sense of personal confidence and self-esteem.

Many people have struggled to differentiate between platonic friendships and infidelity. While a friendship with the opposite sex is not the determining factor, the issues of faithfulness, deception and betrayal are.

There are several different types of infidelity that may occur in a relationship. Understanding the differences is important, so one doesn’t fall prey to one or more types of infidelity. It is also helpful to know the types in order to be able to continue to nourish and work on one’s couple.

There are two main categories of infidelity: Physical and Emotional. An affair is generally considered to be a secondary relationship that is a combination of types and possibly fall under both main categories of physical and emotional infidelity. For instance, combining sexual and emotional, or cyber and emotional intimacies.

Emotional Infidelity:

  • Object Affair:
    An object affair can be described as pursuing an outside interest that may reach a point of near-obsession, where the interest leads to neglecting one’s relationship. A healthy balance of outside interests are perfectly fine, normal and encouraged in a committed relationship, but when one is so consumed with the object or if the interest takes top priority, that is when the problems arise. By choosing interests in which both partners can participate, the object is more likely to bond the couple than hurt the relationship.
  • Cyber Affair:
    A cyber affair occurs entirely online. The acts of sexting, texting, chatting or video chatting with a sexual context, without your spouse, are all considered to be a cyber affair. Cyber activities with one’s partner can be very healthy for a marriage. Sexting with your partner can be great foreplay as well as watching pornography together. A wonderful way of staying connected throughout the day with one’s spouse is texting.
  • Emotional Affair:
    An emotional affair occurs when one partner becomes emotionally attached to someone other than his or her spouse. One may spend a great deal of time communicating with this other person about deeply personal things or have inside jokes with the non-partner. Sharing problems, issues, life dreams and goals with someone other than your spouse or partner takes attention away from your relationship and is considered an emotional affair. Sharing the ups and downs and ins and outs of daily life with your significant other is essential in a successful relationship as it promotes closeness and nurtures the partnership.

Physical Infidelity:

  • Sexual Affair:

    A sexual affair is when one has sexual relations or intercourse outside the marriage, experiencing no deep emotional attachment to their sexual partner. Examples may be one-night stands or hiring a prostitute. Having a healthy sex life is an important aspect of marriage, and most people believe in monogamy or sexual exclusivity. Monogamy allows the trust needed to be vulnerable with one’s spouse.

What one person considers an affair or infidelity may not be considered infidelity by someone else. Knowing what your spouse views as infidelity is a key to maintaining your marital vows. For example, a person might not consider his or her partner’s viewing of pornography to be cheating, while another person might consider it to be infidelity and experience feelings of inadequacy as a result of the disclosure.

Some view infidelity only as sexual intercourse with a non-partner and therefore may not consider emotional affairs to be cheating. However, this type of infidelity can be more detrimental to a relationship than physical infidelity, as an emotional affair might indicate that the partner committing the infidelity is no longer invested in the relationship.

Studies have shown that women appear to be more likely to forgive sexual affairs since there is no emotional bond, while men have a more difficult time forgiving a sexual affair.

Attending premarital therapy, can be helpful to discuss views and expectations around monogamy early in one’s relationship to avoid future disagreements, issues, or hurt.

If infidelity has arisen in your relationship, seek the help of an experienced marriage therapist. It is possible to overcome infidelity and move forward to create a stronger, successful, happy and healthy marriage.

Understanding the Different Types of Infidelity


Staci Lee Schnell, MS,CS,LMFT

Staci Lee Schnell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Clinical Fellow of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She is currently the President of the Broward Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the Coordinator for the South Broward/North Dade Chapter of CHADD. Staci is the President of SLS Therapy, Inc. as well as the Clinical Director and Owner of the Counseling and Wellness Center of South Florida. Staci received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology with a Minor in Child Development from Florida State University in 1991. Staci then went on to earn her Master of Science Degree in Family Therapy as well as a Clinical Specialist Degree in Family Systems Health Care from Nova Southeastern University in 1993.


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APA Reference
Schnell, S. (2018). Understanding the Different Types of Infidelity. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 7, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/understanding-the-different-types-of-infidelity/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 3 Nov 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.