What's Considered Cheating? How To Define Relationship Infidelity

Updated 11/23/19
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Bottom line: If it feels like cheating, infidelity, or adultery to you, then it is. Infidelity and cheating in any type of romantic relationship are betrayals of the expectations one has of their partner.

For example, if you and your S.O. have talked about, say, flirting, and you've openly expressed that you're uncomfortable with such conduct and see it as a deception of your trust, they should respect your feelings, and act accordingly. If they don't, well, what happens next is up to you.

Different Strokes, Different Folks

Many times, it can be pretty difficult to singularly define infidelity and what's considered cheating because people think differently about what constitutes appropriate versus inappropriate behavior. And the definition of cheating can be an especially fuzzy one for married people who've skipped the adultery conversation before tying the knot.

Cheating Behaviors, Depending

Some think it's cheating if their partners engage in any of the following activities with people outside of their relationship:

  • Flirting
  • Discussing things of a sexual nature
  • Gift-giving (unless to a relative)
  • Clandestine online chatting (whether sexual or platonic)
  • Sharing private, personal information
  • Providing emotional support or admiration
  • Texting continually (in private or otherwise)
  • Sexting
  • Sexual contact

While most may very obviously view sexual contact as the ultimate betrayal, the other activities, while perhaps innocent at the outset, aren't so black-and-white. (And some might even feel that sex outside the relationship is really no biggie.) Whether infidelity happens on a strictly physical, emotional, or cyber-cheating level depends largely on what either party has designated as behavior that's toxic to the relationship.

Cheating, Defined

While the former notion seems a bit murky, the only real way to define cheating and infidelity is if you personally feel your expectations of faithfulness have been violated. Are you feeling anger, bitterness, sadness, and betrayal as the result of questionable behavior? Say yes, and your S.O. is definitely cheating.

Discuss Dealbreakers

Most cheating-or-not stickiness arises when couples don't take the time to discuss the issue in great detail. When you tell your S.O. that cheating and/or infidelity is a dealbreaker full stop, but avoid explaining exactly what behaviors you detest, any and all perceived transgressions are left open to interpretation.

You'll both need to communicate, in no uncertain terms, what you both define as cheating, infidelity, and any other behavior that rides a fine line of impropriety. While it may not be a particularly easy discussion (personal views may differ), it's still best to talk it out and share your feelings regardless of how your partner may respond. Warning: Initially, you may both find it hard to see from opposite perspectives, or you may even be accused of overreacting.

Stay or Go, Your Choice

It's important to remember that your feelings are always valid, no matter what. And although you can't compel someone to adopt your personal views on cheating, you can express the hurt caused by said behavior. It's a sad day when you're forced to come to terms with the fact that your partner might never provide validation or change their behavior, but you still retain the power to choose whether to simply live with it or move onto another, more trusting, happier, and long-lasting relationship.

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