Most people would agree: if you’re in a monogamous relationship, then cheating is wrong. If everyone knows this, however, then why is infidelity such a common issue for many relationships?
We can’t help but wonder if part of the problem is that the parameters of exactly what we consider “cheating” can vary from person to person — and even from relationship to relationship.
Let’s say, for example, that you consider watching pornography to be a sign of cheating, but your partner thinks that the line for cheating is only crossed when you get naked next to someone else. Someone else might consider sending a text message cheating, while others think textual cheating requires the use of an online dating app. There’s no concrete “right” or “wrong” answer, but these contrasting classifications can lead to misunderstanding, miscommunication and mistrust.
One way to better get in touch with our own boundaries (and perhaps open conversations with our partner) is to gain a better understanding of the spectrum of what other people consider cheating. To explore this, our staff anonymously shared their own perspectives on what we do — and don’t — consider to be cheating in a monogamous relationship. Here are just a few of our opinions.
Emotional cheating is cheating
For many people, cheating in a relationship isn’t just about straying physically (whether that means kissing or sex) — it can also come down to the sense of betrayal that can come from making conscious choices to micro-cheat or straying emotionally. As one staff member put it:
“Emotionally connecting with another woman is as much cheating as it would be to get physically involved with another.”
Another woman echoed this sentiment, but — to her — emotional cheating is actually worse.
“In a perfect world, being in a monogamous relationship would mean total loyalty to each other on all levels for all time, right? But that’s not always realistic.
“In the past, I’ve had partners who have, in my eyes, ‘cheated’ by being physically intimate with other women (this included, to the best of my knowledge, kissing, sleeping beside and having sex with other people). After a lot of reflection, however, the most painful element of this betrayal, to me, was the breach in our emotional intimacy and bond. I could have gotten over a one-night stand, but the ongoing intimate discussions and romantic planning this person had with others outside our relationship is what I still think about now.”
If you wouldn’t do it with your partner in front of you, it’s cheating
One staff member shared a simple way to gut-check if something crosses the line when lines get blurry.
“Secret texts [or] phone calls, kissing or touching of any kind that is outside of a friendly hug should be considered cheating,” she says, adding: “If you wouldn’t do it in front of your family or partner openly, then it’s cheating.”
Guilt is the guide
Many women shared with us that feelings of guilt or unease can indicate if something is cheating. For instance, as one staff member explains:
“Cheating can be emotional or physical, and although there can be some instances where you aren’t sure, it’s whatever makes sense for you and your partner. If you both consider something to be cheating then it is. If you do something and feel guilty after, then that’s probably a sign that whatever you were doing falls on the side of cheating. Regardless of why you may feel compelled to cheat, there’s never a good excuse for it.”
Using guilt — or defensiveness — as a guide also resonates with another staff member, who shares:
“If you’ve done something that’s left you with a lot of guilt, then it’s probably a strong indicator that your actions would be considered cheating – even if it comes in an emotional form. On the other hand, if you find your partner justifying their actions a little too aggressively… then chances are, you have your answer.”
See also: 11 signs a cheater will cheat again.
Cheating depends on each relationship’s unique set of boundaries
What makes you feel guilty, or what you and/or your partner consider cheating can vary depending on each specific situation and relationship, and how the people in that relationship define it.
“Cheating is relative, because every relationship is different,” a staff member shares. “The two (or three, or four) parties in a relationship set the boundaries, so it’s a conversation that needs to be had to set the guardrails.
“If boundaries are established, and someone crosses them, that is cheating. Even monogamy, often the default, needs to be defined clearly between the two involved. The important thing is communicating to avoid the grey area.”
Can what you consider cheating change over time?
Another staff member points out that, even when we think we have a set definition of cheating in mind, that experience and feeling may ebb in certain situations. As she puts it:
“Ideally, the definition of cheating is defined between partners, but even if you talk about it, there might be situations that come up that you didn’t cover in your initial conversation. There are so many things in the grey area that you might not think of.
“For example, maybe you saw your partner give ‘that look’ to someone else. I think it’s important to think about how a situation or action made you feel and express that you felt it crossed your boundaries. As a general rule, I think if they feel the need to hide it from you, it’s probably cheating.”
You may also like: How to catch a cheater: 16 ways to spy on a cheating spouse.
Not everyone wants to know
While many would agree that open, honest communication is key, research also suggests that some people may not even want to know about certain things that they may consider to be cheating. This is the case, in certain instances, for one staff member.
“To some extent, I put my trust into my partner’s hands to know and respect me and my boundaries, and to hold their own actions within those limits. With that said, do I want to know every time they watch porn or have feelings of attraction to another woman? Not necessarily. For me, it works better to let them figure that out for themselves — and come to me to discuss if they feel like they’ve done something that crosses a line and could fracture our mutual trust.”