Emotional vs Physical Affairs: Study Finds Which Is More Forgivable

Cheating is always a controversial topic. Now more than ever, we’re living in a society where relationships are allowed to exist more fluidly, where we don’t have one very traditional – and sometimes limiting – structure to follow. 

Although this is an incredibly freeing element of our developing society that is becoming less restricted by rules and more focused on individual choice, it also encourages us to question the ‘traditional’ structure of the monogamous relationship. 

Cheating is pretty universally defined by a lack of trust. Showing an interest in someone else that isn’t your partner; if you hide it it’s considered cheating. Cheating means different things to different people, especially today, with so many different platforms and ways of connecting with people intimately.

A new global study reveals some interesting data around cheating, with the results showing men are more likely to forgive an affair than women. The research, from extramarital dating site Ashley Madison, showed 86% of men said they would forgive a partner for straying, whereas 82% of females would do the same. 

In the study, 85% of females admitted they had already been forgiven for infidelity, whereas the number of men who had been forgiven was lower at 80%.

Interestingly, the type of cheating that the two genders struggle with are different. Men are more likely to forgive emotional cheating but no physical cheating, while women are more likely to forgive physical cheating, but not emotional.  

Emotional cheating can be best defined as checking out of a relationship emotionally, without being upfront about this to your partner. Although liking someone’s Instagram photo might not be done with any agenda, it can feel dishonest and create tension and fear in a relationship. 

Physical cheating is slightly simpler. It can be defined as any physically intimate act, done with someone who isn’t your partner, without them knowing. This could be intimate touching, kissing, having sex and basically anything that happens in the lead up to sex.

“We recently collaborated with Dr. Alicia Walker from Missouri State University who’s released research detailing male vs. female cheating habits,” Ashley Madison’s chief strategy officer Paul Keable, told The Latch.

“After speaking with nearly 100 Ashley Madison members, she uncovered two very interesting findings: While men largely turn to infidelity for emotional validation, women do so for sexual satisfaction.

“Many married people find over time that the familiarity and routine of their relationship with their spouse leaves them unfulfilled in some areas. According to Dr. Walker’s research, men feel unworthy when their wives neglect to ask about their day, show them affection, or praise their sexual performance. So, they seek an outside partner to boost their ego. Women, on the other hand, feel emotionally stable in their marriage but are either not having sex or not having orgasms.”

Basically, men are more willing to forgive emotional cheating, however, a deeper emotional connection, affection and emotional attention is often the reason they cheat. Comparatively, women are less likely to forgive physical cheating, but they usually go looking outside of their relationship for physical reasons. 

The data seems to work against us. We’re less inclined to forgive the type of cheating we’re more likely to do. 

These behaviours may be indicative of how men and women would then feel if they discovered an affair. Men may be more understanding of emotional infidelity because they can relate to the unfulfillment that would lead to that,” explained Keable, offering a new perspective.

“A physical affair could be something they struggle to reconcile. For women who widely feel emotionally sound within their marriage, a discovered emotional affair may not be as forgivable as a physical one.”

It’s okay to not get everything you need from one person. In long term relationships, we often find ourselves feeling ebbs and flows of connectivity with our partner. Perhaps it’s only fair to be more accepting of our differing needs outside a relationship and to have those difficult conversations before looking outside the relationship in secret, to avoid breaking trust. 

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