Beth thought her girlfriend Sue had been acting differently. Ever since Sue started spending more time with her friend Amanda, Beth had noticed a change in her behavior.
"At first, I was happy for Sue," Beth confessed. "She doesn't have a lot of close friends, and I thought her friendship with Amanda would bring her out of her shell. But then they started calling and texting each other constantly. I had the nagging feeling that Sue was pulling away from me and our relationship. I know nothing physical was happening between the two of them. It just didn't feel right."
What Beth was experiencing in her relationship was something called emotional infidelity (or emotional cheating) and it happens all too often in lesbian relationships. Sue and Amanda had forged a connection to each other that went beyond a close friendship. Amanda started fulfilling emotional needs for Sue that are integral to an intimate relationship; needs that should only be fulfilled by her significant other. Sue may not even have realized that her behavior and connection to Amanda had moved out of the "friend zone" and into emotional cheating.
An intimate lesbian relationship consists of a framework of emotional connections that create a bond between two women. Before Sue's relationship with Amanda escalated into emotional cheating, Sue would connect with Beth both physically (hugging, kissing, sex) and emotionally (sharing stories, offering emotional support, loving words and deeds, and being attentive). A mix of both aspects — physical and emotional — is important to a healthy relationship. Once one piece goes missing, the intimate bond begins to deteriorate.
Unfortunately, emotional cheating is often far more destructive to a lesbian relationship than physical infidelity. It can go much further before it is acknowledged, because the line between "friendship" and "emotionally intimate relationship" is often blurred. There isn't just one act that points to cheating. Physical cheating is easy to define for most people — it's a specific sexual act. But what constitutes emotional cheating? Ask 10 people and you're likely to get 10 different answers.
What is clear is that emotional cheating goes outside the boundaries of a normal friendship. Some common signs of emotional cheating are:
1. She shares her most intimate thoughts with someone outside of your relationship.
2. She seeks and gives a majority of her emotional support to someone outside of your relationship.
3. She depends on someone other than you (her significant other) to meet her needs to feel loved, connected and significant.
4. She's distracted by someone else when she should be present in your relationship (for example, out to dinner
with her "friend").
5. She spends more time connecting with someone outside of your relationship — talking on the phone, texting or spending time together.
It's normal at times to support your significant other having a friend or family member as emotional support outside of your relationship. Maybe she is going through a tough breakup or a family member has passed away. Usually, you will only be doing one or two of the above behaviors for a short period of time. This is not considered emotional cheating. Emotional cheating is when someone is participating in all or most of the above behaviors over a long period of time. She may make excuses for prolonging the contact or refuse to acknowledge it. She may even start hiding how often they contact each other.
The best way to deal with emotional cheating is not to let it happen in the first place! If you're having problems in your relationship, get help (like coaching specifically for lesbian couples) before things get worse. It's much easier to solve problems in your relationship before something like emotional cheating happens.
If emotional cheating is already happening in your relationship or if you suspect it's happening, it's best to avoid accusing your significant other. Making accusations will only put her on the defensive and drive her away from you. Instead, it's best to talk about the behaviors that are bothering you and how you feel.
When Beth sat down to talk to Sue, she said, "I noticed you're spending more and more time with Amanda. I feel like she is starting to meet emotional needs for you that I should be meeting. I want to take responsibility for meeting your needs and I think we should figure out how to reconnect emotionally." Beth and Sue decided it would be best to get some outside help. Getting outside help (like coaching) will help you determine why it's happening, and what you need to do to reconnect with each other. This may include dealing with problems that arise from the emotional cheating like anger or trust issues.
Once Beth and Sue acknowledged the relationship problems that led to Sue seeking attention from Amanda, they were able to move past them. They both realized that they weren't meeting each other's needs and had allowed persistent problems to drive a wedge between them. With a little outside help and a new understanding of each other, they are now happier than ever!
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This article originally appeared on YourTango.com: "Emotional Infidelity: A Surprising Issue In Lesbian Relationships."