What constitutes cheating?

There’s no “one” action that defines cheating. For example, I’m fine with porn in my own relationship. I can watch it, he can watch it and we can watch it together. However, for some of you listening right now you’re thinking: I would NOT be OK with that. I’ve had clients that weren’t OK with their partner even fantasizing about or thinking sexually about other people. They considered that cheating. So, what’s correct? Where do you draw the line? 

The answer is that you draw the line wherever you both agree to draw the line. Cheating can only be defined within each individual relationship. The problem is that I would bet anything that 99% of you listening to this have never laid out the groundwork with your partner about what constitutes cheating. You’ve never explicitly said what is and is not OK and herein lies the problem. 

Most people assume that having sex with another person is a no-no. However, they never define what else is a yes or a no. It’s THESE things that often lead to cheating, however. It’s the slippery slope of things not said, behaviors not identified that lead people down a path where eventual sex can happen. 

In the end, infidelity comes down to secrets and omissions that turn into events that break trust. Secrets are obvious, but it’s these omissions that are often the real poison. It’s the things you just don’t ask or say. They’re not secrets per se, but you aren’t saying them because you don’t want to hear the answer.  

So, one of the things that needs to happen, whether there’s been cheating or not, is a very specific and frank discussion about what constitutes cheating to you. I mentioned the porn earlier but my partner and I had another thing come up early in our relationship. I’d gone to lunch with a male colleague. We discussed business and caught up. No big deal, right? Well, when my man asked me that evening how my day had been, I mentioned this lunch. He didn’t like it. He wasn’t furious or anything, he just didn’t like it. So, he made a request. He asked that, moving forward, I let him know anytime I was having lunch alone with a man. 

This is not something I ever would have thought about for some reason. However, it made me think about how I would feel if he told me he was having lunch alone with some female colleague. I’m not a jealous person at all and trust him completely, but I realized I wouldn’t like it. 

You need to discuss every area. What about following people on Instagram with “sexy” photos? What about flirting as part of a job in sales? What about sharing troubles in your relationship with a trusted friend of the opposite sex? Speaking about these things with your partner is an awesome way to build connection, understanding and trust. 

Discussing everything you need to feel safe is one thing. But, along with that, there are some “Do’s and Don’ts” that need to be addressed simultaneously.  

  1. Find out information about any cheating or affair (don’t assume) but stay out of the nitty gritty. It’s focusing on the details that will cause you to put your energy into the wrong things. Also, the more you know, the more you can picture and create in your mind. Those pictures will never go away and become harder to move past.
  2. Have conversations but no screaming matches. If you can’t help yourself and do yell and scream, try to THEN have a conversation where your partner talks too.
  3. Don’t speak for hours and hours about it. If you can’t resolve this yourselves, get thee to a good therapist!
  4. Listen to what your partner says. Are they remorseful, angry, indifferent, defensive? How your partner reacts will tell you a lot about how to move forward.
  5. Don’t allow yourself to be blamed (“We haven’t had sex in six months, what did you expect me to do?”) but also take responsibility for your marriage being in this place. 
  6. Is your partner willing to do anything different now? It’s not just about saying you’re sorry and moving on – what created the space that this happened? What is going on in your relationship? Are either of you happy? What’s underneath the affair? 
  7. Don’t speak to 20 different people about the affair. Pick one or two trusted folks (hopefully one is a therapist). Otherwise you’ll get 20 different responses and it’ll get VERY confusing to know what to do.
  8. Don’t make any long-term decisions for at least 30 days. 
  9. Don’t cause more damage: “I just want to make him hurt as much as he hurt me.” “Well, she just gave me a free pass to cheat myself.”
  10. Unless you or your children is in danger (physical or extreme emotional duress), don’t let anyone tell you what to do. If whomever you trust to speak to makes any suggestions such as: Leave her, forget it ever happened, move on, etc. then stop those talks. You want someone to ask you questions so you can decide with your own mind what’s right for you to do. If they don’t do it, you need to ask yourself questions: 
  • What am I really feeling right now?
  • What am I most afraid of right now?
  • What do I think this means?

Dealing with infidelity in your relationship is hard. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself (getting rest, eating healthy foods, speaking to a therapist) before making any major life changes.