You Need Help: I Think My Partner Is Emotionally Cheating On Me


My partner and I are in a monogamous relationship, but for some time now I’ve noticed they have escalated what started as a work friendship into emotional cheating. They deny to be cheating at all, and consider their friend to be “just a friend,” but I can tell by the intensity, frequency, and intimacy of their bond, that it’s more than friendship.

We can’t agree or find a common ground on this issue, because they are sure that they’re not doing anything wrong since there’s no hidden agenda or intentions with said friend. I, however, feel like they’re playing with fire and subtly “leaving the door open” for something else to develop between them.

My partner says they’re not flirting, and I think they are. What do I do?


OK. I’m gonna be honest with you. Really honest. I think you’re stoking the fires of what might escalate into real cheating more so than your partner.

It’s this simple. I don’t believe emotional cheating is a real form of cheating. Or, rather, I don’t believe that having deep platonic relationships outside of a monogamous romantic relationship is cheating. I don’t even consider having harmless crushes on your cute friends cheating, if no one is being secretive about it or acting on it. I think both of those things are frankly normal, healthy, and fine for most people in relationships.

The whole panic about emotional cheating is deeply heteronormative. And one of the best things about being queer and having queer relationships is that we don’t need to abide by heteronormative ideas. In a hetero relationship, you have a man and a woman, your Adam, your Eve. Adam has platonic man friends. Eve has platonic woman friends. The number one relationship is supposed to be, in super hetero land, the sacred marriage.

The marriage is monogamous and both Adam and Eve are, obviously, very straight, exclusively straight, a Kinsey zero. Both Adam and Eve can have friends and even very close friends so long as they 1) don’t get in the way of the marriage, and more importantly, 2) are of the same gender. They can even go on overnight trips with these friends, share a hotel room, get trashed alone at the bar together, have secret inside jokes, have special places and songs, and reserve time outside of the marriage just for these same-gender (read: non-threatening to heteronormativity) friends. You know, “girls’ trip!” or, “boys’ night!”

And in this heterosexual garden of monogamy, it’s understood that the heteronormativity implicit in the marriage is very important to maintain, and any threat to it breeds insecurity. So talking to a different-sex person becomes a gateway to flirting, and flirting is a gateway to cheating. Therefore same-gender friendships can be intense and deep so long as they stay in their proper platonic intimacy boxes, and different-gender friendships are actively avoided (Can men and women even be friends?! har har har), leaving the only sexual attraction left to exist between the husband and wife. Of course, we know this isn’t how most people relate to attraction. You’ve heard the adage: “I’m married, not dead,” inferring that even married people can see that other people outside their marriage are hot. Duh.

From that you may deduce that, yes, emotional cheating is real. Because, frankly, the world is very not exclusively heterosexual, and isn’t that how so many classic lesbian rom coms start, a girls’ trip that turns into a gal pal tumble into that shared hotel room bed, a straight girl realizing her boring husband actually isn’t meeting her emotional needs and falling into the arms of the mysterious lesbian next door while the husband doesn’t even realize he’s losing her?

In the queer world, the reality is that our friends don’t live in such a separate world from our partners. Quite the opposite! We often find it safest and most convenient to be close with those like ourselves. Unlike the heterosexual world, there isn’t this gender division between romance and friendship and I think that’s a much better model. And it also adds a different layer of nuance to the question of so-called emotional cheating or flirting with friends.

For example, when a straight girl comments a heart emoji on a thirst trap of their same-gender best friend, there’s implied platonic intent. No one has to wonder. (Maybe they should — see lesbian rom com trope — but I digress.) When a queer girl does the same, there’s a hint of cutesy flirting because regardless of intent, there’s a different implication when a queer girl tells another queer girl they look hot. And I think that’s amazing. We get told we’re not desirable by the world all the time, so to see the hotness in each other and comment on it? It’s fun! It’s necessary, even!

If my partner was worried every time I had a close friend who is also queer, or every time I said something flirty to a queer friend, or even every time I had a legit low-key crush on a friend, we’d not be together and monogamous for almost two decades. Our queer relationship subverts the norm in so many ways and one is the way in which we can invest in queer platonic intimacy. I can’t be everything to my partner and I don’t want them to be everything to me.

One of the most fulfilling aspects of queer platonic friendship is how we see the hotness in each other, hotness that lives outside of ableist, heterosexist, cisnormative, racist, sizeist beauty standards.

Look, I say this as someone who has cheated, a lot, in past relationships, when things got tough and I wasn’t mature enough to work it out or say what I needed. But never in the past two decades have I cheated on my long-term spouse partner queer married boi person. Why? Because we trust each other, and because we communicate with each other, and we aren’t threatened by other people because of the trust we’ve built. Do we sometimes have harmless crushes? Or think our friends are cute? Or have intense platonic attractions and relationships? Yes, of course. And it’s not a big deal. And we don’t hide it or pretend it’s anything it isn’t.

I don’t know your situation exactly and maybe there are things you aren’t saying, but from what you describe, it sounds like your partner is telling you that you can trust them, and you feel you aren’t able to do that. Maybe there’s a legitimate reason you haven’t disclosed that your partner has broken your trust, but if the reason is just that your partner is having a close relationship with a friend outside of your relationship and they have a little bit of chemistry, I’m sorry. That’s not enough to constitute cheating or even a slippery slope to cheating.

Continuing to show that you don’t trust them and that you believe they are cheating or will cheat will, however, almost definitely manifest in cheating or the end of your relationship. If not with this friend from work, with someone else down the road, or just by bringing distrust and jealousy into your relationship to the point that your relationship can’t bear it.

There are things that are warning signs and, as someone who, like I said, used to be a panic cheater, the warning signs are pretty clear:

Is your partner hiding things about the friendship from you?

Are they often complaining about your relationship to the work friend?

Are they being secretive about what they talk about or do with the friend?

Are they blowing you off to spend time with the work friend?

Are they lying to you about the friendship?

Does your partner compare your relationship to their relationship with the friend?

Are they keeping important life events from you, but sharing them with the friend?

These are all signs that yes, you should be concerned that your partner is starting to walk away from your relationship or is unsatisfied with your relationship. If you had described any of the above behavior, I’d be truly concerned that your relationship is in danger. I would suggest that you need to find a better way to communicate stat. I might suggest that you seek out couple’s counseling. And yeah, I’d be worried that your partner is already one foot out the door.

I don’t think the friendship itself is cheating. Not yet. But this dynamic can lead to that if it isn’t resolved. The issue isn’t the friend, though — it’s your relationship. And you need to work on it to save it.

If the red flag behaviors I mentioned above aren’t currently present, I am a little worried that you could create friction and distance in your relationship — that doesn’t need to be there based on your partner’s behavior! — with your own current behavior. If you continue to express that you don’t trust your partner to maintain appropriate boundaries, over time, they will learn to avoid this conflict with you by hiding the details of the friendship from you, and as that boundary and mutual respect of your relationship weaken, so will the health of your relationship. That breakdown of communication and trust is what could lead to cheating, not just having an attractive close friend from work.

It’s not your job to police who your partner’s friends are or how “intense” your partner’s friendships are. It is your job to work on your own insecurities and to communicate and work on the relationship with your partner itself.

Long story short, I don’t believe in emotional cheating. Or, rather, I think the idea that we must save our intimate, intense feelings only for our partners is a deeply heteronormative one, and I don’t want us to adhere to it. Queer relationships make space for us to experience connections to people in many ways, even and especially within monogamous relationships, and setting up an expectation that monogamy means you can’t ever be close to someone else or even have an innocent attraction to someone else is unreasonable.

What should you do? You should talk to your partner. You should really listen. Ideally, you should trust them, though it sounds like, from the tenor of your question, you’ve already expressed pretty clearly that you don’t trust them. Frankly, if you want to keep this relationship, you should work on yourself and the idea that you are required to or should provide the only intimate emotional connection to your partner or any future partner. When you feel secure in yourself, you will be better able to gauge whether a partner is being secretive and unfair, or whether you are the one being unfair.

I wish a whole lot of happiness, for you and for your partner, and I hope you are able to work this out!

You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

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KaeLyn is a 40-year-old hard femme bisexual dino mom. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, over-caffeinating herself, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Upstate NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a scaredy cat, an elderly betta fish, and two rascally rabbits. You can buy her debut book, Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution if you want to, if you feel like it, if that's a thing that interests you or whatever.

KaeLyn has written 230 articles for us.


  1. Love, love, love this response, KaeLyn.

    Also, question asker — what a great opportunity to learn more about your own needs and values in this situation! Are you feeling afraid of “emotional cheating” because you have emotional needs your own partner can’t meet (as everyone does)? Are you afraid to seek them out elsewhere because of the messaging/pressure we experience to put EVERYTHING on a single partner, as KaeLyn said?

    Or did you miss red flags in the past and experience true cheating? Are you having a hard time trusting yourself, thus trying to control your partner’s needs and friendship?

    As someone who does practice polyamory, I’ve learned a lot from my own jealousy. What fears or anxieties does it point to? And what needs or values are underneath those that aren’t being met (and how can I go meet them without expecting a single person to “complete me” — whether That’s my partner, parent, kid, deity, etc).

    So thankful people are addressing this within themselves and in our queer communities!

  2. Whilst everything Kaelyn says is smart, wise and theoretically true, I don’t think it really matters. Ultimately, your partner isn’t making you feel good. You can argue forever about whose ‘fault’ that is, but these kinds of impasses are very hard to move past. You have the right to not feel comfy with whatever is happening with your partner, and your partner has the right to have close friends. So…you have to ask, should I stay and be suspicious? Or should I leave with my dignity still intact?

  3. It took me a long time to learn this, and I wish this answer had been there for me when I was deeply confused and jealous-insecure in my first long-term relationship. I not only freaked out about my partner’s intimate friendships, I internally denied my own crushes and worried that I was “cheating” by feeling attracted to other people. It’s hard to unlearn heteronormative standards for love, but important work! Beautiful advice, KaeLyn.

  4. This might not be relevant, but is there a reason LW doesn’t seem to have spent much time with this friend of their partner’s? I sometimes used to get a little jealous of my partner’s friendships until I actually spent time with their friends and realised that just because they talk a lot it doesn’t mean they’re relationship-compatible. It went a long way towards stopping me falling into these patterns of doubting what my partner was saying about the relationship, and allowed me to make a great new friend in the process.

    I do enjoy the detail of this answer too – it’s fun being able to flirt with your friends, it’s fun being able to talk comfortably and securely with your partner about flirting with your friends, it’s a thing about being queer that I’m finding I value more and more. If it’s something LW is struggling with, it might be worth a bigger discussion about jealousy and comfort levels and what your partner can do to help you feel happier and more secure in the relationship without having to sacrifice their other relationships!

  5. Yea, I also think the idea of “emotional cheating” is kind of nonsense. I mean, I guess if I was monogamous and I uncovered loads of longing texts where they were explicitly talking about how much they wish they could be together and fuck, that would be one thing. But just being close..? That’s kind of absurd. It’s really not practical to only be allowed to be close friends with people who you can’t possibly ever be attracted to.. like lesbians can only be friends with gay men??? And bisexuals just aren’t allowed to be friends with anyone??? Nope, sorry, that’s just not reasonable.

  6. I think all of this advice is spot on, but disagree on one point. It is possible that deceit is already involved and the partner is already doing everything on the red flag list and hiding it from the letter writer. Something similar happened to me and it was years before I found out about all of the breaches of trust, times they said they were doing something else but were actually spending time with the other person, etc. I ended up trusting their word (again and again) over my intuition, and my trust was misplaced.

  7. I think this is good advice, especially the red flags list. I think if the letter writer’s partner is being extra defensive, that could also be a sign that something is amiss. My sister was just left for another woman that her gf told her not to worry about (yay queer family drama). I agree that you should have deep intimate friendships with people of the same gender, but when your partner is only doing date-y things with a new person and gets defensive about simple questions related to the hang out, something might be fishy. Also, I don’t agree that your jealousy can cause the other person to cheat. Everyone has free will and can make their own choices, including choosing not to work things out with their partner and keep someone on the back burner to date next should they so choose.

  8. along the lines of what tooticky said- i would just acknowledge to some future reader of this comments section who is mulling a similar question, if not to the LW themself, that even in all of our ability to value and nurture legitimately beautifully close friendships, fuckery does indeed happen, and this whole line of evolved and openminded queerness doing away with the possibility of questionable ‘friendships’ can be a great way to gaslight someone out of an intuition that’s actually accurate. hell, it’s a great way for people involved in those situations to create plausible deniability for themselves! i’m not playing with fire with someone i know in my heart of hearts (or pants of pants) i’m thinking about as more than a friend, we’re Queer And Doing Platonic Intimacy! nobody can politics ourselves out of our actual feelings and experiences like queers can.

    something about the letter being responded to here (maybe the absence of examples of the partner’s non-problematic friendships? maybe a lack of acknowledgement that close friendships in general are good and not across-the-board suspect? not sure why this one reads as kind of globally jealous, tbh, but it does) makes the overall framing of the response it got feel appropriate (and those questions are great). but yes, sometimes these feelings truly are you sensing that something more is there. unfortunately that leaves you with pretty much the same options as always- communicate honestly, think about whether you can trust that your partner is communicating honestly, and if you can’t, put your focus there to figure out whether what you’ve got going on is truly viable.

    • I really appreciate this comment.

      I was recently in a messy situationship where I experienced gaslighting from the person I was seeing while simultaneously I was putting pressure on myself to be “evolved” and “mature” and calm when really I felt upset bc my needs weren’t being met.

    • “ nobody can politics ourselves out of our actual feelings and experiences like queers can” – I agree with this so much. There’s loads of pressure to handle certain things in an “evolved” way, but ultimately if something is upsetting you in a relationship, you need to find a resolution. Sometimes it’s not a question of whether your feelings are right correct good noble etc. but whether you can live with them or find a compromise that works (or at least results in the least hurt) for both of you (which could be a breakup, a greater level of transparency from your partner about their friendships, an effort to understand why you struggle to believe your partner when they say there’s no cheating, etc).

      Also I’m really enjoying the whole discussion this advice and comments section has prompted!

  9. Overall I think this is good advice! Especially regarding the red flags list and how heteronormative a lot of the “emotional cheating” talk can be. I do, however, take issue with the implication that OP is going to “drive” a partner to cheat. Cheating is a choice made by the cheater, and it feels like we get into weird territory by saying a partner can manifest it. It is the responsibility of the party who doesn’t want to be in the relationship to call it quits, not to go behind their partner’s back. I agree OP needs to face this more head on and hash out what is really going on with their relationship. Their instincts could be right or this could be a carryover of insecurities into their relationship from something else.

    The letter is pretty light on details, but it might also be important to interrogate if there’s some unspoken need/want in the relationship that is not being met. I know for me, not feeling like someone is prioritizing X thing (time together, a specific activity, shared responsibilities, etc.), can make it easy to latch on to a new thing (well you HAVE been talking to so-and-so more lately, what’s up with that?), and see that as the cause of the issue; rather than just normal rhythms of being human and being in relationships.

    • That’s a good point! And I didn’t mean to imply that, though I well may have based on your reading. The obligation to not cheat still lives with the cheater. And, another thing I didn’t point out, if the friendship has already crossed a boundary into say, for example, actively talking about leaving partners for each other or sexting or something, that is cheating. Or at the most generous, that is much more than a close friendship and closer to an affair!

      I just meant that, based on the facts we have, assuming the partner is not lying and is, in fact, not trying to build a new romantic relationship, that continuing to not believe them may push them away. And generally that could result in the breakdown and end of the relationship, whether that be through actual cheating or just breaking up.

      Regardless, good point!

      • Very fair, and thank you for the clarification/continuation in your comment! I’ll admit I might be a little sensitive to the topic for personal reasons, and it jumped out to me in my reading. I appreciate your perspective in the article and your response :)

  10. I disagree with KaeLyn. If cheating can be understood as dishonesty or betrayal or deception, I believe emotional cheating is a real thing and can be possible under certain circumstances and within certain relationships.

    I don’t feel like the writer gave us enough info for their context, but I think that even in relationships that are poly or “healthy” examples of monogamy (and not all monogamous relationships are possessive or backwards), emotional cheating can be possible depending on a few things like how long the people involved have been together and their relationship agreements or like relationship type.

    Emotional cheating is not just about getting emotional needs met outside of the relationship, it can encompass ignoring the stated boundaries or bids for connection from the partner who expresses feeling hurt. It can be a breakdown of communication from one or both or all (depending on the number of partners involved) feeling like something is not being met in the way that they would like from the other person(s). It can also encompass gaslighty behaviour or straight-up disrespectful behaviour, and the other person might be completely unaware that they’re being disrespectful..or they could be knowingly acting out. I don’t know if others would agree, but this is just my opinion.

  11. There is a lot of wisdom and maturity in this response, but I’m left feeling uneasy…

    ‘I don’t believe emotional cheating is a real form of cheating. Or, rather, I don’t believe that having deep platonic relationships outside of a monogamous romantic relationship is cheating.’

    100% agree that deep platonic relationships don’t equal cheating. Yet, it doesn’t therefore follow that emotional cheating isn’t a thing. The logic is off, notwithstanding the ‘Or, rather’.

    It may be that the LW is wrongly equating the two, for sure. If so, the advice is great and I hope they can take it on board. But if another reader is in a similar situation, but they are legit being lied to by a partner who has overstepped a line and can’t own up to it, then this advice will leave them feeling undermined and unsupported. It’s bordering on gaslighting.

    Also, those warning signs…you won’t be aware of many of these if your partner is lying to you and pretending all is well when it’s not.

    Emotional cheating is real but like emotional abuse, it’s insidious and difficult to pinpoint or prove. I think it’s possible to acknowledge this while celebrating gorgeous, passionate, flirty and platonic queer friendships, and learn to distinguish the two. Speaking from cruel experience.

  12. Thanks for the super helpf red flag list!

    I think there might be another element at play though, a difference of opinion about what creates dangerous/potentially problematic friendships. The heteronormative script is well ingrained! I am not sure the LW is following it though. It might be a simpler issue of different tolerances of risk or temptation. That is tough to talk through, especially with all the cultural baggage KaeLyn enumerates.

    I wonder if another tactic in that open conversation would be to discuss this meta topic, rather than the specifics of this friendship.

    I don’t doubt the GF feels it is harmless, but I can also totally understand the LW’s risk aversion. I don’t think that has to mean LW is untrusting (my guess would be they apply this same risk aversion to their own actions!), it’s just they have different approaches to risk. (Also, to be clear, I don’t believe every close friendship is risky, an affair waiting to happen, and I doubt LW does either. I do feel that sometimes it is easier to keep a friendship from going further than you want if you set firm, maybe even preemptory boundaries. Especially in a situation like work where you likely have to see the person.)

    Maybe even if they have different perspectives on this general topic, they can at least build a better understanding of each other’s point of view and find common ground there.

  13. While my heart goes out to those triggered by this letter, I agree with KaeLyn. The term “emotional cheating” feels like another reinforcement of heteronormative control. Another way to restrict a person’s capacity for healthy relationships outside the nuclear family. Are they lying, deceiving, or prioritizing others over you too much? Then say that. Have that talk or break up. Are they communicating honestly while openly cherishing others? That’s emotional intelligence.

  14. I’m stuck on this one. I personally believe emotional cheating is a real, true concept because romance can exist without sex, and there is a difference between deep platonic friendship and romance.

    While there’s not enough information in the original letter to give any sort of opinion as to whether the LW’s partner is, in fact, emotionally cheating, I do think there is a layer missing from KaeLyn’s thoughtful response and those in the comments, that neglects romance as a bond that is different from platonic friendship and does not require sex.

    I’ve recently been reading a lot about different identities under the ace umbrella, so maybe I’m hyperaware of the differences between romantic attraction and sexual attraction, and while it’s hard for me to explain the factors that differentiate romance from platonic friendships (and I think part of the difference is an indescribable feeling), saying emotional cheating isn’t real delegitimizes non-sexual romance.

  15. The biggest thing I’m curious about here is what the conversations with your partner have sounded like so far.

    We can’t get a ton of context, of course, from a brief letter on the internet. But the way the letter writer (LW) framed the issue makes it sound like they are telling their boo “what you’re doing is XYZ”.

    This of course leads to an impasse, because who is one person to claim they 100% know another person’s mind or intentions?

    What we can say for sure is how someone else’s actions impact us.

    So I’m wondering if you, the LW, might try exploring more of what’s up for you. Are you wishing you and your partner were spending more time together? Are you feeling bummed that your partner doesn’t want to share their daily work chatter with you instead of this other person outside the relationship?

    “I” statements are the key that feels missing. “I’m feeling more distance between us, and I’m wondering if there’s something we can do to close that gap.” “I’m feeling insecure because it kind of seems like you don’t want to share big parts of your day with me. Is there something I could do to make you feel safer/more interested in sharing with me?”

    It doesn’t make it your partner’s job to FIX your feelings, but it’s a lot easier for two people to connect on a solution if your partner can understand the impact they’re having on you. Framing it as “you’re doing XYZ” makes it sound like your partner is the problem – which leads to an adversarial feeling – rather than the distance between the two of you being the problem, which is something you can collaborate on fixing from the same “side” of the fight. Hopefully you care about each other enough that they’d want to be having a positive impact on you and not a negative one! And it goes both ways – as KaeLyn said, you also have to be open to hearing your partner’s “I” statements, which might sound like “I’m really bummed to feel like you aren’t trusting me on this, and it does make me feel less inclined to share.”

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