When someone says, “They cheated,” we immediately imagine a physical situation in which one partner was physical, whether one time or on a long-term basis, with someone besides their partner. But cheating is more complicated than just the physical side. In the example of someone cheating regularly, if it is with the same person and they form a connection beyond just the physical, we could consider this both physical and emotional cheating.

Emotional cheating is ultimately when one partner meets the emotional needs they once sought only from their partner now from an outside source. Here’s where it can get tricky — emotional cheating can even occur with no physical cheating. Think about it; if your partner talks to another person as often as they do you, about the same topics, turning to this person instead of you with issues requiring trust and intimate knowledge, and begins imagining a future with this person — even if nothing physical has occurred at all, we all can understand how inappropriate this is.

Consider the example of a long-distance relationship with someone you’ve never met; even though there’s no physical aspect of the relationship yet, it’s clear there is an emotional aspect. If a person began entering into such an emotional connection with another person besides their partner, even if there’s no physical aspect just as in the long-distance relationship, there is still a very real emotional aspect at play. Forging this type of emotional intimacy with someone besides the partner who believes they are the only with their partner has that type of intimate relationship with is grounds for being emotional cheating.

Emotional cheating is an essential side to considering infidelity in a relationship. It’s also valuable for how it helps us understand the different needs we have in our relationships. Just as we value the physical aspect of our relationship, we value the emotional side. And naturally, just as we can transgress boundaries of loyalty physically, we can also do so emotionally. Emotional cheating is an important boundary to draw in your relationships.

Take some time to consider what kind of emotional intimacy is appropriate only between you and your partner — this will help you understand where you draw the line on what is and is not allowed in your relationship in terms of emotional intimacy. Taking this step to consider what emotional cheating means to you can help you avoid any vagueness that could lead to a situation where someone in the relationship feels emotionally cheated on while the other doesn’t feel in the wrong.