There’s never been a time in history where you can lay in bed next to your partner and cheat. The use of smartphones and social media has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for cheating. It used to be that cheating was when you were having sex with someone who isn’t your partner. Now the lines of what is and isn’t cheating are more blurred.
What is and isn’t cheating in a relationship needs to be defined by the people in that relationship. For example, some partners may not consider sexting with someone else to be cheating. Some couples have a look but don’t touch rule or allow flirting with others but no suggestive or sexual touching. And cheating can occur in an open relationship if one partner breaks the relationship agreement. Can you see how complex this is?
The rules or freedoms in your relationship can be whatever you and your partner are both comfortable with. Cheating becomes a problem if someone breaks those rules without consulting their partner or agreeing that the new or extra actions are okay first.
How do you define cheating?
Cheating is when one person has violated the agreed-upon boundaries of how both partners will and won’t interact with someone who is not their partner. This is not limited to sexual interactions. Although most people connect cheating to sex, cheating can also be emotional.
Cheating is when you go outside of your relationship to fill a need that is expected by both partners to be filled inside your relationship. If you are putting more energy into an activity that is outside of your relationship than you are that same activity inside your relationship, this will cause distance and discord in your relationship and can hurt your partner.
Some examples of physical cheating may (or may not) include:
- Explicit sexual touching
- Implicit sexual touching
- Sexually suggestive acts or acts designed to cause sexual arousal
Some examples of emotional cheating may (or may not) include:
- Talking about emotional problems you would usually discuss with your partner
- Building high-level emotional intimacy, that takes away from the intimacy in your relationship
- Talking about intimate details of your marriage or spouse
- Hiding a new relationship, or aspects of the new relationship, from your partner
If you’re asking yourself “is this cheating?”, be honest with yourself about why you are engaging in that activity and what you expect to get out of it. If the answer is a violation of your current agreed-upon relationship boundaries, that action is cheating.
If you don’t know if the answer is a violation of your relationship boundaries, talk to your partner. It may be that you haven’t talked about certain boundaries before. Be open and clarify boundaries before things get out of hand and someone gets hurt.
Cheating on social media
With the invention of social media, there’s a whole new group of behaviours that can now facilitate cheating. This can include everything from sexting and private messages to sexual pictures and using dating sites while in a relationship.
The key factor of cheating that social media facilitates is secrecy. When people start flirty, romantic, or sexual relationships through Facebook or Instagram, this is called online infidelity. Sending private messages on these platforms allows people to keep conversations hidden. Friending friends of friends allows people to initiate flirtatious conversations with strangers without arousing suspicion.
There are also many apps and websites available that are dedicated to dating or hookups. These are great for connecting singles, but they can also be used by a partner who is already in a relationship. Maybe your flirting is harmless, maybe you don’t mean anything by viewing your Tindr matches every now and again, but if these actions are outside of the agreed-upon boundaries of your relationship then it is cheating.
Technology and social media aid more sexually explicit forms of cheating as well. Phone sex, video sex, sending sexual pictures, and sexting can all be done with nothing more than a handheld device. This allows for more discretion and a certain level of anonymity, which makes sexual rendezvous and encounters more easily accessible.
Deciding what is okay
It’s important that you and your partner talk about what is and isn’t okay in your relationship. Setting your boundaries on what you do and don’t consider infidelity is the first step to preventing it in your relationship. These lines need to be agreed on by both of you and mutually respected.
For example, is it okay to flirt with other people? If not, when does that become a rule in the relationship? Do you delete your dating account or app when you start dating? If not, what point in the relationship does that become an expectation?
Forcing your boundaries on someone else who doesn’t share the same values won’t work. But understanding what their actions mean – and don’t mean – to them can help you both feel more secure in your relationship.
It’s essential that the rules you both agree on are followed and maintained by both partners. This is a key step to building trust in your relationship. Cheating is a violation of trust, so building this strong foundation will help both partners to feel more safe and secure in the relationship.
Cheating doesn’t mean the same things for everyone; how it is defined will vary from couple to couple. It’s important that you and your partner set out your boundaries and define what cheating is to you as a couple. Cheating can be sexual, emotional, or both and happens when one person has violated the agreed-upon boundaries of how both partners agree not to interact with someone who is not their partner. Cheating is a violation of trust, so having a strong foundation of trust in your relationship will allow both you and your partner to feel safe and secure in the relationship.
Do you need relationship help?
If you need help with your relationship, contact Clinton Power + Associates on (02) 8968 9323 to discuss your situation and find out how we can help.
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.