Emotional vs. Physical Infidelity?

ImageMy friends and I have an ongoing debate about the relative weight that we place on emotional versus physical infidelity. The central question goes something like this: if you were to discover that your partner was having many intense, deep and searching conversations with someone else, sharing their innermost thoughts and yet honestly hadn’t ever considered sleeping with that person, would you feel more or less betrayed than if you discovered they had a one-time only sexual encounter with that person and were genuinely not interested in repeating it?

For me, hands down the emotional infidelity would be a deal-breaker. I’m not sure there would even be anything to discuss. Sexual infidelity would also be a bitter pill for sure, but I think the nature of sexual attraction is such that I could understand (though not condone) an intense physical, momentary connection with someone else. Now what would concern me more about physical infidelity would be what it implies about my partner’s honesty, or their ability to forego sexual gratification in favor of something else (i.e., the emotional relationship with me) that they value more. 

Many of my friends are preoccupied with the actual act itself, the idea of their loved one touching and being touched by someone else. I wouldn’t want to picture that, certainly, but I think it troubles me far less than the average person. In my writing, I explore jealousy and infidelity in all its forms quite a bit, working out through my characters what that concept means to different people. I was first alerted to my apparently uncharacteristic lack of jealousy when I shared with a friend that an ex-boyfriend had gone to a strip club with friends. She was aghast and thought it was incredibly permissive (not to mention naive) of me to have “allowed him to get away with” such a thing – looking at another woman with lust, etc, etc. I explained to her that I thought men who went to strip clubs were being had – being sold an image of sexual wantonness by women who were more likely thinking about their dry-cleaning and despising the very men who gave them money. Still, she insisted strip clubs are like a gateway drug to physical infidelity and I should manufacture some disapproval even if I did not honestly feel it, the next time he suggested he and his friends were planning to spend their evening in that way.

Well, that boyfriend didn’t last for other reasons, but it got me thinking: are there gateways to emotional as well as physical infidelity that we should close off just to guard our relationships? Some women forbid their husbands or boyfriends from having female friends. Others don’t permit them to go on vacations alone or “with the boys’. For me, that all seems like a little too much work and in the final analysis, futile.

Emotional and physical infidelity are sometimes the consequence of opportunity and recklessly exposing oneself to temptation, but I think more often they are a symptom of something being broken to begin with. The question always, will be whether it’s worth the trouble to fix.

In ‘Commitment‘ I explore the relative weight placed on different kinds of infidelity, but also strongly encourage you to see this little known movie, ‘Last Night’ with Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington (also Eva Mendes and Griffin Dunne). Amazing treatment of this subject, well-acted and far too probing to have been a theatrical success, as all good films are these days.

And then I’d love to hear what you think. Emotional vs. Physical infidelity? Which is worse?

One thought on “Emotional vs. Physical Infidelity?

  1. For me the emotional infidelity is far more troubling than physical infidelity for the reasons you outlined. However, as you also mentioned, if my partner spent so much time lying to me about where he was and what he was doing, then that physical relationship would be also very damaging. I’m not sure my marriage would be able to survive either, but I know it certainly will break if the trust that we’ve built was severed by betrayal and disconnect AND we had no way to get that back.I think I have a healthy amount of jealousy. There is probably so much I can “allow” to go on before I would have a thing or two to say but I also recognize, that my husband is human and will find other woman attractive. My hope is that he wouldn’t invest any time in these women because well…it would mean he wouldn’t be investing in me.

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