Cheating is murky territory: Does following and sending flirty messages to a stranger on Instagram cross the line? What about creating a deep but nonsexual emotional bond with someone? (Answers to that last question may fall along gendered lines: A 2013 study suggested that physical infidelity unnerves men a lot more than emotional cheating, whereas the opposite is true for women).
In the age of Tinder and easy sexual accessibility, it’s even more important to clarify how you define monogamy and infidelity.
“You’d be surprised how many people get married with absolutely no clue that their beliefs about monogamy are incompatible,” Los Angeles marriage therapist Virginia Gilbert told HuffPost recently. “[You have to] get specific. Ask: Do you believe online sex ― chats, cam videos ― is OK? How much porn do you watch and would you be willing to watch less if it’s interfering with our sex life?”
Recently, we asked real couples to share how they each define infidelity and monogamy. See what they had to say below.
Todd and Tyler
“Cheating to me is sharing or doing something intimate that you would only do with your partner. This both includes emotional and physical relationships. I trust my husband; he and I share similar values, discuss what we are each OK with, and genuinely know each other on a deep and personal level. I trust that his moral compass will guide him correctly; if his stomach gets a pit in it, he feels a guilty twinge, or if he thinks his actions and feelings would cause me pain, then that is cheating to me. I know my husband would never physically cheat on me because he would be honest enough to end it first, so this really pertains to the emotional relationships. That can be such a tantalizing experience, connecting with someone else distantly removed from your day to day. It provides a new thrill you haven’t felt in a while, all from the comfort of your couch. In my eyes, that is truly cheating.” ― Todd Gibbon-Thorne, vlogger at Tyler and Todd
“Each relationship is different, but we’re monogamous, so cheating means sleeping with another person. However, cheating isn’t as black and white as a physical betrayal. With the emergence of social media, it’s easier now than ever to have an emotional affair by simply sliding into someone’s DMs. I could eventually forgive my partner for a physical affair but not for an emotional one. While a physical affair would be devastating and a breach of trust, the betrayal of an emotional affair for me is something you cannot come back from. My husband and I have been together for nearly 10 years; he gets to see a part of me that no one else does and understands me more than anyone else, largely because I feel comfortable enough to be that vulnerable with him. The thought of that intimacy and vulnerability being breached is a betrayal far greater than physical intimacy.” ― Tyler Gibbon-Thorne, vlogger at Tyler and Todd
Lauren and Jake
“I define cheating as having secret and deep intimacy, usually physical intimacy, outside of a committed relationship. To me, sexual intimacy is the most romantically intimate you can be with another person. Emotional intimacy outside of the relationship is disloyal, but in most instances, is not an equivalent to sexual intimacy.” ― Lauren Hamilton, creator of modwife.co, a marriage and lifestyle blog
“When an emotional connection forms between two people, it usually leads to a relationship. Cheating is often portrayed as somatic or physical, but anything you’re hiding from your partner could be interpreted as cheating, as it could lead to a loss of trust. ” ― Jake Hamilton
Julia and Eileen
“If a partner cheated on me emotionally, it would be worse than if she did so physically. I’d be unable to forgive her, and our relationship would be forever broken. We’re all human, and it’s natural to become interested in other people, but my sense of trust and fidelity would be crushed if a partner engaged with another woman in an emotionally intimate way, including kissing, texting or WhatsApping.” ― Julia Zelg, lifestyle vlogger
“Cheating is any break in the emotional and/or physical integrity of a committed intimacy. Unless a couple has established rules for allowing emotional and/or physical intimacy outside the primary relationship, any kind of breach of it is breaking the promise of monogamous fidelity. That said, there are alternatives to monogamy that work well for many people. The central component of every relationship is boundaries and the clear definition of them. This is no different for alternative relationships (polyamory, etc.). Negotiating rules and defining boundaries are essential to every type of intimacy.” ― Eileen De Freest, writer
“The central component of every relationship is boundaries and the clear definition of them. Negotiating rules and defining boundaries are essential to every type of intimacy.”- Eileen De Freest
Bruce and Tammy
“Cheating is when you betray the trust established with your partner. For me, even if I kissed another person beyond a ‘hello’ peck on the cheek, it would be cheating on my wife if I did it behind her back. However, on the other hand, she and I may agree that we can explore sexual expressions with someone else if we’re all together in the same room, and that may be OK since we haven’t abandoned the implicit or explicit trust. In fact, even if we ‘played’ privately, it wouldn’t necessarily be deemed cheating ― as long as it was agreed upon, we both understood what would be going on and, most importantly, we shared the experience with each other, which could then even turn the experience into a source of erotic energy for us to use at another time. Cheating is really more about secrecy than anything else: Keeping secrets from one another is where the trouble begins. Besides, I have a great relationship with my wife, so why on earth would I want to screw it up for a momentary joy ride?” ― Bruce Hirshfield
“There’s a difference between secrecy and privacy. I think if I am hiding any kind of relationship from my spouse, it would be a slippery slope toward cheating. Why hide? If I am feeling nervous that he might find out something I’d rather not tell him, then it’s probably cheating. Or at least micro-cheating, which is most likely going to lead to an affair. Texting, sexting, emailing, lunches, dinners, whatever. But personally, I find I can barely find time for my own spouse, and I struggle to think how I might find the time for a lover. If I did want to cheat, I’d probably end up telling my husband; it’s so hard for me to keep a secret. I’m not that good at it.” ― Tammy Nelson, a New Haven, Connecticut-based sex therapist, sexologist and the author of Getting the Sex You Want
Pascal and Bryan
“Simply put, engaging in a physical relationship with another person is cheating. Some suggest that flirting or having intimate conversations with someone else also crosses that line; we agree to a certain extent. For a couple to endure, it is essential for both members to be as honest as possible with each other. That said, having private conversations with other people, to us, does not necessarily count as cheating, but it is wholly inappropriate and unfair to the other party. To cheat is to act on the impulse which pushes you to look outside of your relationship for short-lived pleasure. That breaks the bond of your relationship, it jeopardizes the couple, and is an unforgivable betrayal.” ― Pascal and Bryan, vloggers at Him and Him
Angela and John*
“Anything you do that is outside the agreed-upon boundaries of the relationship is cheating. With that said, it is helpful to define the relationship so you are aware of the boundaries. There are different stages in relationships, and at every stage, boundaries should be clarified because most people are not actually on the same page when they assume the boundaries. This can be complicated when people are in open relationships. However, people who are poly/open seem to be more direct about setting boundaries and being honest about what they are OK with.” ― Angela Skurtu, sex therapist and marriage counselor in St. Louis, Missouri
“Basically, I feel anything you are not willing to tell your partner about and you fear the possible ramifications of if caught is cheating. For example, if you’re in a committed relationship and you’re on a dating app browsing and you hide it from your partner, that is a form of cheating.” ― John (*not his real name)
How do you and your partner define cheating? Tell us in the comments.