Is Cheating Emotional Abuse?

We exist in a society that often takes physical health more seriously than mental health. The same ideology applies to abusive relationships. We condemn someone who beats their partner much more than we condemn someone who cheats on their partner. This brings up the strange moral grey area surrounding cheating in relationships. Is it forgivable? Does it make you a bad person? Was it just one mistake? Is cheating mentally and emotionally abusive?


When someone is unfaithful to their partner, it is not uncommon for them to be defended by their peers or even forgiven by the very person they cheated on. It is understandable; after all, people make mistakes. People do learn, and they do grow. While there are wicked people in the world that do not bat an eye after breaking a heart, there are also people who may deserve forgiveness. I have always agreed with the saying, “hurt people, hurt people.” It is possible that someone is unfaithful because they are not secure with themselves and are repeating a cycle of mistreatment that was dealt to them. The point is, not every situation is black and white.

So, does this mean cheating is okay? Is it nothing but a minor offense that any relationship can bounce back from? Let’s not confuse understanding with acceptance. Look at it this way: emotional abuse is defined as subjecting or exposing a person to behavior that could result in psychological trauma. This usually involves a power imbalance and a lot of gaslighting. To illustrate an example of gaslighting in a relationship, I'll use a scenario: someone asks their significant other if they hung out with their ex last night. Their significant other responds “why can’t you just trust me? You’re always nagging me. Get off my back. You’re crazy.” That is gaslighting. Sounds like a very popular line from someone who doesn’t want to be caught cheating, right?

It is important to recognize that cheating does lead to emotional distress. Imagine discovering that the person who's made a monogamous commitment to you and convinced you that they loved you has been intimate with another person. This can cause massive damage to your self-esteem and make you think that you aren't good enough, interesting enough, or attractive enough. After being cheated on, it can become difficult to trust others. Whether you’re trying to rebuild the trust in your existing relationship or establish a relationship with someone new, it becomes a challenge to let your guard down. There is also a fear of embarrassment; victims of infidelity are sometimes perceived as weak, or foolish.


Being cheated on is an experience that is absolutely harmful to an individual's mental and emotional health. Perhaps the saying “once a cheater, always a cheater” isn’t true in every circumstance. People can make mistakes and feel terrible about them. In these cases, maybe the act can be forgiven. While it is true that cheating can sometimes be forgiven, it does not make it okay. Regardless of what the story or excuse is, cheating hurts just the same.