Emotional affairs, is it cheating?

Emotional affairs, some people don’t count it as cheating and others do. With no physical relationship in an emotional affair, how do family lawyers view it and is it grounds for a divorce? Here, Frances Bentley explores emotional affairs, questions if they should be classed as cheating, and explains whether it is grounds for a divorce.

There has been a lot of focus recently on emotional affairs and what they mean. Some people believe it doesn’t count as cheating because there is no physical relationship with somebody else. Some people think it is worse because that person is becoming emotionally reliant on somebody else, rather than their own partner or spouse.

An emotional affair is bond between two people which mimics or matches the closeness of a romantic relationship but isn’t physical. There has been a survey completed In the USA which concluded that 35% of women and 45% of men had admitted having an emotional affair before.


So why do emotional affairs happen in the first place?

It does raise a question as to whether there is a wider problem within the marriage. There could have been a breakdown in communication, it could be the result of not spending enough time together, or there could be a general lack of happiness within a marriage. Recent reports have looked at emotional affairs and asked some people to comment on their experiences and the impact. Here is what they said:

“It’s now been 6 months and I love him”

“My emotional affair is coming to an end after 2 years. I am feeling sad and pensive”

“I miss my emotional affair now that it’s gone…I feel so alone”.

It is clear that an emotional affair can put incredible strains on a marriage, and even lead to marriage breakdown leading to divorce.


What about Divorce and the Law?

Before the divorce law changed in April 2022, as family lawyers we saw clients who thought that their partner having an emotional affair constituted “adultery”. To them, their spouse   having an emotional relationship with someone else had caused their marriage to break down. However, under the old law an affair could only count as adultery if there had been a sexual relationship and if that sexual relationship was with a person of the opposite sex.

This was sometimes a devastating discovery for both individuals whose partner had an emotional affair or had engaged in a same sex sexual relationship. The law came under fire for being completely outdated (and rightly so). We had to advise our clients that rather than the affair being labelled as adultery, they would have to rely on it being “unreasonable behaviour”. Understandably, to them didn’t feel like it carried the same recognition of the affair that had caused the marriage to break down.  Adultery and unreasonable behaviour petitions were plagued with issues; more often than not it would result in the other party refusing to accept or admit the behaviour, toing and froing on the wording of divorce petitions, animosity and a feeling of complete lack of control over the process for person applying.

In April 2022 the old divorce law was completely abolished, with the “facts” needing to be relied on (such as adultery and unreasonable behaviour) being removed.

A person applying for a divorce now needs to simply confirm within the divorce application that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down”. There is no need to worry about the other person refusing to accept the behaviour happened or refusing to admit it (which often left a person bringing the divorce having no recognition of why the marriage had broken down).


Although the new divorce application doesn’t require an explanation of what caused the marriage breakdown, the law being simplified now means that individuals who have been on the other side of any affair (whether that be an emotional affair or a physical affair) can relatively simply make a divorce application and confirm there has been “irretrievable breakdown” as a result of the affair. It now allows them an element of control over the divorce process which for many, was much needed.


If you are affected by any of the issues raised here, please get in touch today. We are here to help.


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