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The traditional definition of cheating, or infidelity, is that one person in a committed relationship is physically involved with someone other than their spouse. Due to a number of factors, cheating behavior has been reclassified to include the traditional definition and a more contemporary definition, known as emotional infidelity.
Emotional infidelity is defined as any infidelity that occurs through feeling or thought. During the late 1970s, in an interview with Playboy magazine, former President Jimmy Carter stated that occasionally he "lusted in (his) heart" for women other than his wife. His thoughts were equated with infidelity, and he was considered to be unfaithful to his marriage, even though his statement described emotional infidelity, not physical infidelity.
Since that time, and with the technological development of cell phones and the internet, the definition of cheating has been expanded to include the traditional definition, plus the feelings and/or thoughts that comprise emotional infidelity. Cheating now includes having intimate correspondence with someone while on a cell phone, meeting someone over the Internet and maintaining a relationship, or viewing pornographic material through any available source.
The primary difference between traditional cheating and emotional infidelity is actual, physical contact. Traditionally, cheating involves people meeting face to face, and then engaging in physical intimacy. With emotional infidelity, there may be a meeting, but it can occur on a cell phone or a computer. There may be physical activity involved, but it is conducted within the confines of separate locations; the people involved aren't "actually" touching. Many of the people who are emotionally cheating don't consider it to be infidelity. Their rationale is that, because there is no actual physical contact, the behavior can't be considered cheating.
For some people, there is no difference between traditional and emotional infidelity. They view emotional infidelity as having the same behavioral components and end result as traditional cheating; therefore, any perceived differences are a moot point. When someone cheats, they use flirtation, discussion, seduction, and discretion – regardless of where either person is located or what vehicle of communication they are using. The end result is that the unfaithful spouse is paying emotional and/or physical attention to someone other than their partner, and they are removing themselves from the marriage commitment.
Emotional infidelity begins with the exchange of personal information. As the people involved get acquainted, the information exchanged becomes more personal. When the information becomes personal, it can lead to a face-to-face meeting and, most likely, physical intimacy. It can be argued that emotional infidelity is harmless because it is more of a casual relationship than traditional cheating; however, the intimate nature of the communication, plus the emotional investment made by the people involved, places emotional infidelity on the same level as traditional cheating.
Considering the wide-reaching capabilities of the internet, the continuing advancement of cell phone technology, and the various other communication devices available, the number of people engaged in emotional infidelity will only increase. People cannot be stopped from engaging in an illicit affair, but they should consider the effect that cheating will have on the spouse. They should also consider the possible consequences of emotional infidelity, which can be the same as those of traditional infidelity, including divorce.
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