What is cheating?

Cheating and infidelity mean different things to different people, and it’s important you and your partner have the same definitions. That’s why we’ve decided to lay out some offences that might be considered cheating for you to go and have a chat about. So what is cheating? Is texting cheating? Or a really close friendship? The Mix explains.

Two young women are playing basketball. They are trying to figure out what cheating is.

Is texting cheating?

The best way to answer this is to figure out 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? If it’s the latter you might wanna take a minute to think about why you felt that way.

Our instincts are pretty good at helping us out in these situations. Often it’s not about the details of what happened, but about the intentions behind the action. Micro cheating in a single flirty text is one thing, but doing it repeatedly is something else entirely.

What if there are LOTS of emails or texts?

Now this is something that’s less of a grey area. There’s clear intent behind it, there’s time in between the text messaging on social media or email to dwell. We’d probably recommend that you take time 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 the messenger,” says Life Coach Lynda Field. “And if it’s your partner doing the messaging then you have to have a serious conversation with them. Just know that if you decide to stay together, you’ve now moved the boundaries of what cheating involves, and it’s very difficult to move those back.”

Emailing and texting might not be physical cheating, but that doesn’t mean you’re free of blame. It could still be considered emotional infidelity a.k.a emotional cheating. And if you or your partner aren’t emotionally committed to each other then you have to take a serious look at the future of your relationship.

Is sexting cheating?

If you or your partner are secretly sending sexy snaps to other people, it could be breaking the rules and trust of your relationship. Things to consider in this situation might be how many times it’s happened and how many other people it’s happened with. Similar to texting, it’s a good idea to think about why this is happening and what it says about your relationship.

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’re just gonna have to trust them. However – and this is a BIG however – if their behaviour rings alarm bells to you; say this is a Very New Friend From Work Who They’re Suddenly Spending Most Evenings With, then it’s normal to feel suspicious. The best course of action at that point is to have an open and honest conversation with them. And, whatever you do, DON’T snoop through their phone – it’ll just end badly for everyone.

“Insecurities are natural, so don’t feel bad about that, or guilty,” says Lynda. “It usually stems from you feeling uncomfortable, and your gut instinct.”

Is it cheating if it’s a drunken kiss?

Deciding whether or not a drunken kiss is a type of cheating is difficult. Technically, yes, it’s a form of sexual contact with someone outside of the relationship. Buttt…we all make mistakes. And something important to note here is that a drunken kiss with someone you don’t know is extremely different from passionately snogging your partner’s best mate.

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

“The question is not what’s acceptable based on societal standards, but what’s acceptable TO YOU,” says Lynda. “If you feel completely heartbroken or not good enough then it’s not acceptable. Full stop.

And if you did the kissing? Then you need to take a hard look in the mirror. Do you know why you did this? And can you deal with knowing that you did it? Do you even feel guilty about it?

This should go without saying but if the drunk kiss leads to a one night stand you can be pretty sure that counts as cheating. Unless of course you’re in an open relationship or having a threesome with your partner.

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. We don’t suddenly become unaware of everyone around us just cause we’re in a relationship. This is completely and utterly 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? If you act on it then it’s probably crossing the line. But, likelihood is, you’ll probably just forget about them in a couple of weeks time.

“Give it time, see if it passes,” says Lynda. “If it develops into something more, maybe it’s a sign to move on before you do something you end up regretting.”

Is flirting cheating?

“Oh, let’s be honest, flirting gets everyone going! It’s just a good bit of fun” says Lynda. Rest assured, she does draw a line between good flirting, and dangerous flirting though. 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 with a random stranger for hours in the corner at a party, then the answer might well be yes.

You can check out our article on flirting here.

Is watching porn cheating?

Watching porn is unlikely to fall under most people’s definition of cheating in a relationship. If, however, you or your partner is watching so much porn that it’s causing problems in the relationship, you need to have a talk. It could certainly become as damaging as cheating. Take a look at our articles on porn here.

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

Lynda has some wise words before you launch into screaming accusations. “Don’t be critical, don’t let anger drive the conversation,” she says. “Own the feelings calmly and say something like: ‘When you do this, I feel like this XX,’ rather than just levelling accusations. Especially if you don’t have any receipts.

The problem with the latter is that criticism never works; it just makes people defensive and angry. They’ll hear your tone of voice and instantly shut down. In which case, you might as well be talking to a brick wall.

Instead, talk openly about what cheating is to you. Then, ask your partner what they feel counts as being unfaithful. You may figure out that you don’t actually 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 distancing themselves from you, in whatever way, don’t try to drag them back,” says Lynda. “They’ll never stay because you want them to; they’ll only stay because they want to.”

Next Steps

By Caroline Corcoran

Updated on 28-Jun-2022