The definition of infidelity is “being unfaithful to your partner”.
People often have different expectations of what it means to be faithful.
Some people consider it cheating only if a physical act occurs. In contrast, others feel that emotional intimacy is an equal betrayal.
Couples can use counseling to get clear on their mutual meanings. This helps you to set boundaries for fidelity. It also helps in coping with feelings of betrayal.
Types of Infidelity
There is no strict definition of infidelity. Each couple defines their own rules. However, there are some common things to consider as you set those boundaries.
Physical infidelity means having a sexual experience with someone other than your partner. Depending on your relationship’s boundaries this may include:
- A kiss on the lips
- Making out
- The physical act of sex
- Sex with someone outside of the agreed-upon rules in a non-monogamous relationship
This type of cheating doesn’t include the physical acts of sex. Nevertheless, it can be a serious betrayal.
Emotional cheating generally refers to having intimate emotional relationships that are kept secret or partially-secret from your partner.
A standing lunch date with a co-worker may be innocent. However, if you’re keeping it secret from your partner, it may be a betrayal. Signs to look out for include:
- Sexual attraction
- Reaching out to the person instead of to your partner
The Internet and texting have further blurred the definition of cheating. At what point do you cross the line?
Most people don’t consider it cheating if you email a friend about problems in your relationship. On the other hand, emailing that same friend about a sexual dream you’ve had about them might be.
Is it infidelity if you sext with a co-worker? What about if you are sexting with a stranger on the other side of the world whom you’ll never meet? On the one hand, the latter may never affect your day-to-day life; on the other hand, it can feel like a betrayal to your partner. That’s enough to signal that the behavior is off limits.
Infidelity and Your Relationship
There is no specific moment when an innocent conversation becomes cheating. It depends on the rules in your relationship. Therefore, it is key to discuss those rules.
Ideally, this will happen before there is an issue. However, after infidelity, there can be a repair to the relationship. In counseling, you may discuss:
- What does cheating mean to each partner?
- What types of behaviors are “ok” to each and which are completely off limits?
- How will you bring up changes in relationships with others?
- What do you each need in terms of privacy?
- How will you reach agreements when boundaries are crossed?
Answering these questions is helpful even if one or both partners already feels betrayed. Each person needs to understand what the other feels about the experience.
What You Want, Will, Won’t Accept
Couples will often find that they have different ideas about what constitutes cheating. One way to come to an agreement is through an exercise called “want, will, won’t”. Each partner divides a sheet into three parts:
- What you want
- The things that you would be willing to accept
- What you won’t accept
One example is, “I want you to tell me about every time you talk to someone of the opposite sex. However, I will accept if you don’t tell me about every email or lunch date. That said, I won’t accept failure to tell me about physical cheating.”
Partners then come together and share their lists, working together to define relationship boundaries.
Are you and your partner in need of help when it comes to this challenging topic? Infidelity and perceptions regarding faithfulness can create resentment or lead you to feel angry with your partner as well. Read this article too if you are experiencing feelings of anger. If you’d like to work on building a close, trusting relationship please contact me soon to set up a consultation.