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Home > Relationships > Trust Issues

When Is Contact With an Ex Not Emotional Cheating?

By Judith Sherven, Ph.D. and James Sniechowski, Ph.D.

From The New Intimacy Newsletter


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Dear Judith and Jim,

I love your newsletter and find your advice to be thought provoking and inspirational. But there is one subject which I am having trouble agreeing with you on. The subject of "emotional cheating". (See Is Keeping in Touch With Old Lovers Emotional Cheating?)

[Last week}you said that a married person sending a birthday card to an ex of any kind is emotional cheating! I feel that there are instances where this is NOT the case. A relationship which lasts 7 or so years "should" have bonds of friendship involved. Once the intimate relationship dissolves, friendship should still remain if both parties are looking at the situation from an emotionally healthy perspective. So what's wrong with sending a birthday card to a friend?

I admit that a move like that, in some cases, is emotional cheating depending on the perspective of the sender. Or if the receiver is still holding out for an intimate relationship and sees this as a "sign" of hope and the sender knows this is keeping options open. Yes, I see the cheating there.

Just a personal example to let you know where I'm coming from. My current boyfriend (of 8 years) was involved in a relationship for six years before we met. The break up was mutual but there was still some bad feelings. Well, things have gotten better between his ex and himself and they are friends, as a matter of fact I consider his ex a friend as well and wouldn't think twice about sending her a birthday card myself! Each situation is different. If I felt she still had it bad for him, I'd be concerned, but she doesn't. She's got her own life and new intimate relationships to deal with. So I suppose my point, after this long winded email is this: I cannot agree that contact with an ex of "any kind" is emotional cheating. It depends on the situation.


Dear Reader,

Thank you for your response. And yes, we agree with you. For us to have used "of any kind" must have appeared as though we thought of ourselves as the sole arbiters of reality. And, of course, we are not. No, a card to an ex does not have to be emotional cheating but it surely can be.

By "emotional cheating" we mean an act through which someone withholds from their relationship such that the relationship is undermined.

That is far far more common than most people are aware of as well as are willing to admit. Many people fly into a tizzy over sexual cheating, but the latter is most often merely the expression of emotional cheating that has built to the point of becoming sexual. When we deprive our partner and the relationship of who and what we are-especially when we fear that what we feel and have to say might rock the boat-then we are cheating ourselves, our partner, and what we claim we want. We stay out of and away from the relationship and then it withers to whatever degree we are not feeding it our thoughts, feelings, fears, desires, and all of the stuff that make up being together in real life.

If two people are each other's exes and are healthy about what they had and who they are to one another now, then communication is an expression of their maturity and that is wonderful.

Thanks again for keeping us on our toes.

— © Copyright, May 3, 2002, Reprinted with permission

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