Emotional Cheating on Boyfriend With Old Fling, Therapist Gives Advice


  • Before you make a decision, consider what could be lacking in your current relationship.
  • Be honest with your boyfriend about feeling disconnected and cut off contact with your old flame.
  • Have a question for Julia? Fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously. You can read more Doing It Right here.

Dear Julia,

I’m not sure if I want to be with my boyfriend.

Sometimes I miss the freedom of being single. But I’m also into someone else, a past flame who I wouldn’t mind being in a relationship with. I’ve emotionally cheated with this guy and he says he wants to see me. I really want to see him.

My boyfriend doesn’t know any of this, and I’m so confused about what to do. I’m afraid if I leave my boyfriend, I’ll lose someone who really loves and cares about me.

Even though I have so much chemistry and history with this other guy, I’m afraid that he won’t give me the communication and commitment I already have with my boyfriend. What can I do?


Dear Atlanta,

When your heart and mind are pulling you in different directions, it can feel overwhelming.

Right now, it may seem like you only have two options: Stick with the status-quo of your relationship, or move on and give your old flame a new chance.

But there’s a third option you should consider, Chelsie Reed, a therapist and author of “Sexpert,” told me. Taking an honest look at what your current relationship lacks and working with your boyfriend on those areas could help you feel more fulfilled, connected, and free.

In Reed’s experience, people often avoid this option, whether on purpose or subconsciously. It can be scarier and more emotional work to confront what’s lacking in your relationship instead of giving up on it and moving onto a new person.

“That seems easier, but you don’t live with that person. You don’t have to deal with their in-laws, whatever financial issues, their mood swings are, who they are now. It’s almost like a vacation relationship,” Reed told me.

If you’re unsure how to move forward, Reed suggested building on the love and commitment you say you have with your boyfriend while stopping contact with your old flame.

This way, you can focus on making your relationship work better for you, instead of being so torn you can’t take action.

Consider why you’re enamored with your old flame

You said you miss the freedom of being single, but also feel drawn to your old flame. Exploring why you feel this way can help you understand what you really need to feel satisfied, according to Reed.

She said that in relationships, partners may hide parts of themselves or keep certain topics or conversations off-limits. Whether intentional or not, this hiding is a way to protect from potential judgment.

That’s not to say your boyfriend is judging you. But if you fear judgment, you may close off a part of who you are, or your interests, when he’s around. It’s a way to feel safe, but ultimately, it’s not a freeing experience.

This is where the allure of your new-old flame comes into play. According to Reed, shared history can make you feel like you know someone when they end up back in your life years later. The feel-good memories you associated with them rush back, even if there’s no evidence you could work out now.

And since you don’t fully know who this person has become or how they could fit into your life, it’s easier to project your desires onto them, Reed told me.

If you pay attention to those desires, and how this other man makes you feel, you could have valuable information about what you need in your current relationship.

For example, if you notice you feel more comfortable talking about your negative emotions with this other man, or a particular hobby you have, reflect on whether you feel that way with your boyfriend, Reed said. If you don’t, consider why you’re hiding parts of yourself.

It could have to do with how your boyfriend received your attempts to share these things in the past, or be related to stories you’ve been telling yourself about who you’re allowed to be around him, according to Reed. In either case, there are ways to change this pattern in your existing relationship.

Cut off contact with the other man and focus on making memories with your partner

There’s always the potential your old flame could have new legs. It’s up to you to decide if pursuing that potential is worthwhile.

If you’re afraid to lose love, care, and commitment, consider the ways you’re preventing yourself from receiving those things from your boyfriend, and potentially outsourcing them to this other person.

According to Reed, the best way to foster those feelings in your relationship is ending your emotional affair and being honest with your boyfriend about the disconnect you feel. She said you shouldn’t bring up the emotional affair if you intend to work on your relationship, since it will likely do more harm.

It won’t be easy to let go of your old flame at first, and that’s understandable. He reminded you to be excited about life, and helped you see the bigger picture of who you are. But excitement doesn’t always lead to love.

When nurtured, love can bring the excitement, authenticity, and fulfillment you crave, said Reed.

She said creating opportunities for curiosity can help you nurture love in your current relationship. Card decks designed to facilitate deep conversations are a great place to start, like the one by therapists (and real-life married couple) John Gottman and Julie Gottman.

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