When is it cheating?

So what is cheating? A flirty text? A really close friendship? Or just all out sleeping with someone else? Cheating and infidelity mean different things to different people, and it’s important you and your partner have the same definitions.

Girl looking angry at a cafe

Couples need to define their own cheating code.

Is it cheating if it’s just flirting on email or text?

The best way to answer this is what your gut reaction was when you saw the text – or if you’re the one who wrote it, how you felt when you pressed send. Did it feel harmless? Or did it feel like a betrayal?

Our instincts are pretty good at helping us out in these situations. Often it’s not about what happened, but about how what happened made us feel.

But what if there are LOTS of emails or texts?

Now this is something different. There’s intent behind it, there’s time in between messages to dwell, and you need to consider why this has been happening and why it’s become a habit.

Is it boredom? And if so, what does that say about your relationship?

“It shows a lack of commitment on the part of whoever’s doing the messaging,” says Life Coach Lynda Field. “And if it’s your partner doing the messaging then you must accept that if you allow it and stay with them then you’ve become part of a different relationship. You’ve moved the boundaries of what’s OK, and it’s very difficult to move those back.”

Is it cheating if it’s just a close friendship with someone else?

If your partner tells you that the person is just a friend, then to an extent, you must trust that. However – and this is a BIG however – if their behaviour rings alarm bells to you; say this is Very New Friend Amelie From Work Who They’re Suddenly Spending Most Evenings With, then it’s normal to feel suspicious.

“Insecurities are natural, so don’t feel bad about that, or guilty,” says Lynda. “It’s about what you’re comfortable with, and your instinct.”

Is it cheating if it’s a drunken kiss?

This comes back to one question: Does it feel like cheating? Do you feel hurt? Do you feel betrayed, and humiliated, and undermined? If you do then yes; it’s cheating, because it’s cheating to you.

“The question is not what’s acceptable, but what’s acceptable TO YOU,” says Lynda. “If you feel diminished or not good enough then it’s not acceptable.”

And if you did the kissing? Then you need to look at your own conscience. Do you know why you did this? And can you deal with knowing that you did it?

Is it cheating if you start fancying someone else?

Firstly, if this is you, then let’s ease your guilt – EVERYBODY gets crushes on other people sometimes. This is SO normal. It’s what you do about them that’s the real test. So take some time and reflect on things. Is this a fantasy? Do you really want something to happen?

“Give it time, see if it passes,” says Lynda. “If it develops, maybe it’s a sign to move on before something else happens like this.”

Is it cheating if it’s just flirting?

“Oh, let’s be honest, flirting gets everyone going!” says Lynda. But she does draw a line between good flirting, and dangerous flirting. Are you flirting with intent? Do you believe your partner is flirting with intent? “Ask yourself one question,” she says. “Are you being hurtful?” If you’re ditching all thoughts of your partner’s feelings to get flirty for hours in the corner at a party without giving your partner a second thought, then the answer might well be yes.

How do you talk about cheating? And when is it cheating for you?

Lynda has wise words before you launch into screaming accusations. “Don’t be critical, don’t say anything in anger immediately,” she says. “Own the feelings and say something like: ‘When you do this, I feel like this XX,’ rather than just levelling accusations.”

The problem with the latter is that criticism never works; it just makes people defensive and angry. Then your conversation will go about as far as that clapped out car your brother keeps vowing to fix in the garage.

Talk openly too about what you feel is cheating, and ask your partner what they feel counts as being unfaithful. You may not agree, and that needs deep discussion – otherwise feelings will get hurt.

And when the conversation is done? There’s one thing you must never, ever do, and that’s chase.

“If the person is wandering away from you, in whatever way, don’t try to drag them back,” says Lynda. “They will never stay because you want them to; they’ll stay because they want to.”

Photo of angry girl by Shutterstock

Next Steps

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By Caroline Corcoran

Updated on 29-Sep-2015