What is considered cheating in a relationship? The 8 main types

What is considered cheating in a relationship?

In short, cheating is being emotionally or sexually unfaithful to your partner with who you are in a monogamous relationship with. Being intimate sexually or emotionally with another person is usually considered cheating.

However, when you get more specific and talk about different actions and behaviors, what constitutes cheating can be a tough question to ask, and despite what some people say, there is no complete universal answer.

Different couples have different rules. Cheating is murky territory after all.

But in the age of tinder and online communication, it’s important that you and your partner define monogamy and infidelity.

You’d be surprised how many people get married with absolutely no idea that their beliefs aren’t compatible.

So in this article, I’m going to get specific and talk about the 8 different types of cheating and what behaviors may be included in each.

Keep in mind that some couples may be okay with these behaviors, while others clearly won’t.

Let’s go:

1. Emotional Affair

What is it:

This type of cheating is an emotional attachment between a person and someone who isn’t their partner or spouse.

This can happen even if you never engage in any physical actions that would indicate a loving relationship – holding hands, kissing, cuddling, or more; just the act of communicating deeply on an intimately personal level while simultaneously letting the emotional connection with their spouse fall to the wayside.

Your significant other should be the first person you turn to for most of your daily ups and downs as well as your life’s greatest hurdles – when this is no longer the case, something is wrong.

“When you are emotionally cheating, it is all about the emotional connection…It is about crossing lines and sharing things that would make your partner uncomfortable (including talking about them in a negative way.”

And of course, it would be naive to think that emotional cheating may not eventually lead to physical cheating.

How do you figure out what constitutes emotional cheating?

Look, there’s no getting around it. Emotional cheating is hard to define.

Late-night texting, constant messaging on social media – it can be tough to figure out what is an innocent friendship and what is actually cheating.

So, how can you figure out whether it’s emotional cheating or not?

Marriage therapist Sherri Meyers says that an emotional affair is essentially an “affair of the heart”.

It’s very different from a platonic friendship as there’s definitely some sexual attraction and flirting involved.

Click here to watch an excellent free video with tips on what to do when you suspect your partner is emotionally cheating on you (and much more — it’s well worth watching).

The video was created by Brad Browning, a leading relationship expert. Brad is the real deal when it comes to saving relationships, especially marriages. He is a best-selling author and dispenses valuable advice on his extremely popular YouTube channel.

Here’s a link to his video again.

2. Cyber Affair

What is it:

A cyber affair is a modern epidemic – an emotional connection developed online.

Many people try to make excuses for these kinds of relationships, and in many cases, they successfully deceive their spouse into believing that it’s fine.

Unlike the traditional emotional affair, the cyber affair might seem less serious, since everything is happening online.

No lunch dates, no meetings, no late-night talks in a restaurant.

Cyber affairs are becoming increasingly common simply because of how easy they are to fall into – an unhappy marriage can lead spouses to seek better spaces online, and they can happen completely unintentionally.

How do you figure out what constitutes cyber cheating?

Look I won’t deny it: It’s tough to work out whether an online relationship with someone outside your marriage constitutes an affair or cheating behavior.

So, how do you figure out if it’s just an innocent, online friendship, or whether it’s something a little more sinister?

You need to look at the characteristics of the relationship.

Is your partner trying to keep it a secret?
Is there a sexual and emotional undertone?
Is there consistent flirting going on?
Are they confiding in them for emotional support rather than you?

If you can answer yes to these 4 questions, then I’m sorry to say but you might consider it cheating.

3. What would a relationship coach say?

While this article explores the most common types of cheating in a relationship, it can be helpful to speak to a relationship coach about your situation.

With a professional relationship coach, you can get advice specific to your life and your experiences…

Relationship Hero is a site where highly trained relationship coaches help people through complicated and difficult love situations, like infidelity in a relationship. They’re a very popular resource for people facing this sort of challenge.

How do I know?

Well, I reached out to Relationship Hero a few months ago when I was going through a tough patch in my own relationship. After being lost in my thoughts for so long, they gave me a unique insight into the dynamics of my relationship and how to get it back on track.

I was blown away by how kind, empathetic, and genuinely helpful my coach was.

In just a few minutes you can connect with a certified relationship coach and get tailor-made advice for your situation. Click here to get started.

4. Object Affair

What is it:

The object affair is perhaps the type of cheating that is the most difficult to qualify as cheating, but it is still a type of infidelity and betrayal.

Object affairs occur when a partner becomes obsessively interested in something outside of the relationship.

This might be a hobby, an idea, or in many cases, pornography.

Their obsessive interest in this object hurts the relationship because it consumes them – even if it’s just their mental space, it is a space that the spouse is aggressively prohibited from ever entering.

How do you figure out what constitutes object cheating? 

Object cheating becomes obvious when the obsession slowly becomes bigger and bigger, and space for the relationship gradually shrinks.

You might say that this is less serious but it can wreak havoc on a relationship, particularly if it’s an obsession with porn.

In some cases, a porn obsession can lead to the partner no longer being aroused by normal sex.

5. Physical Affair:

What is it:

The physical affair – sometimes the easiest kind of affair to determine, and sometimes the most difficult.

While sleeping together is an obvious breach of trust for most traditional relationships, what about a meaningless drunken peck on the lips during a company party, or holding hands with another physically attractive person?

The intent is always important – and you should never treat your partner like a fool.

You can define physical cheating as using the body’s senses to feel a connection, where the motivation is touch and for sexual gain.

How do you figure out what constitutes physical cheating? 

Now I wouldn’t want to stereotype but according to Yvonne, a therapist at The Affair clinic, a good way to look at it is “in terms of the sex cycle.” Yvonne, a therapist at The Affair Clinic,

“A man is like a gas cooker, turned on from the flick of a switch. A woman needs much more warming up time, like an electric hob!”

She says that this is why a woman generally needs to feel an emotional connection with someone before she feels she wants to engage in sexual/physical activity.

As a result, a man may feel the pain of physical cheating harder and women find emotional infidelity harder to deal with.

6. Financial infidelity

What is it:

Financial infidelity happens when couples with shared finances lie to each other about money. For instance, one partner may hide significant debts in a separate account while the other partner is unaware.

It may be surprising to hear that hiding your spending habits from your other half can be considered a form of infidelity. 

But it can be considered cheating, and one of the most damaging, too. 

How do you figure out what constitutes financial infidelity?

Because if one partner’s spending affects both people in the relationship, and they’re trying to hide it, then it’s dishonest and destructive. 

Perhaps one partner is hiding it for personal or professional reasons, but it will inevitably affect your partner as well. 

This is, of course, assuming that it’s a marriage where the money is shared by both involved. This is usually the case in any marriage. 

The bottom line is this: 

When one spouse is making significant financial moves without the knowledge of the other, it endangers the financial future of both people and disregards the importance of trust and communication in the relationship.

7. Micro-cheating

What is it:

Micro-cheating may be a term you haven’t heard of before but it is certainly a set of behaviors you have seen many times before.

Micro-cheating is a slick way that people who are not ready to commit to a relationship stay in the game without compromising their existing partner or status.

It’s something that many people do without realizing it.

Ty Tashiro, psychologist and author of “The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love“, says to NBC that micro-cheating is a “relatively small act of emotional infidelity with someone outside of a person’s committed relationship” that usually happens through online interactions or texting.

How do you figure out what constitutes micro-cheating?

Robert Weiss, told NBC that “different behaviors might be infidelity for one couple, micro-cheating for another couple, and not a problem at all for another couple.”

So if you aren’t comfortable with certain behaviors or habits your partner has, it might be time to be honest with yourself about what is really going on.

Here are some examples of micro-cheating:

  1. Flirting with other people on social media, or messaging apps
  2. Flirting with the waitress or waiter at a cafe
  3. They still have a dating profile online
  4. They still constantly communicate with their ex.
  5. They go to events with another person of different sex.

8. Is flirting cheating?

What is it:

I’m sure we’ve all pondered this question before. And it certainly isn’t clear-cut. But I’ve included it here as one of the main types of cheating because some people do consider it cheating. 

First off, what is flirting?

Flirting can be considered as behaving as though one is sexually attracted to someone, but playfully, rather than with serious intentions. 

Why do some people considering flirting as cheating? 

Because it can be viewed as a breach of trust because you are showing interest in someone else. 

How do you figure out if flirting is cheating?

According to relationship expert Knowles, “it’s only when it starts to cause harm or the intention is to harm, or when you’re hiding – that’s when the betray happens and that can be very harmful”.

If you’re having a chat with someone and it’s understood as just a bit of harmless fun and your partner also understands, then it’s fine. 

But when you’re flirting with someone and the person you’re flirting with doesn’t know the boundaries, and neither does your partner, then it’s more harmful and may be considered cheating. 

And if it is not something you would do in front of your partner, then it could be considered an act of betrayal. 

Behaviors that many people consider cheating

A 2013 University of Michigan study tried to address the question, what is considered cheating in a relationship? 

To do so, they asked a pool of undergraduates to rate 27 different behaviors on a scale of 1-100. 

A score of one indicated that they didn’t think the behavior was cheating, whereas a score of 100 indicated that it was absolutely cheating. 

What did they find? 

That all in all, there was no direct definition of cheating, with the exception of sex. 

It tends to be on a sliding scale, with some people believing certain behaviors are more damaging than others.

Here are some behaviors that some people may consider cheating, and others may not. 

  1. Grabbing or touching inappropriate areas
  2. Going to an event, having dinner, or buying gifts for someone who is not your partner.
  3. Constant texting (especially explicit texts) or flirting with someone who is not your partner.
  4. Going on a date with someone who is not your partner.
  5. Being on internet chatrooms or social media with the intention of flirting/or getting other people’s numbers.
  6. Meeting up with ex’s.
  7. Grinding and bumping with someone other than your partner (while clubbing).
  8. Flirting or teasing with someone other than your partner.

What leads to cheating (and what you can do about it)

One reason men cheat on women is because he feels unessential to her.

For a man, feeling essential to a woman is often what separates “like” from “love”. And feeling unessential is a common trigger for pulling away and exploring other romantic options.

Don’t get me wrong, no doubt your guy loves your strength and abilities to be independent. But he still wants to feel wanted and useful — not dispensable!

This is because men have a built in desire for something “greater” that goes beyond love or sex. It’s why men who seemingly have the “perfect girlfriend” or “perfect wife” are still unhappy and find themselves constantly searching for something else —  or worst of all, someone else.

Simply put, men have a biological drive to feel needed, to feel important, and to provide for the woman he cares about.

Relationship psychologist James Bauer calls it the hero instinct. Watch his free video here about this fascinating concept.

As James argues, male desires are not complicated, just misunderstood. Instincts are powerful drivers of human behavior and this is especially true for how men approach their relationships.

So, when the hero instinct isn’t triggered, men are unlikely to commit to a relationship with any woman. He holds back because being in a relationship is a serious investment for him. And he won’t fully “invest” in you unless you give him a sense of meaning and purpose and make him feel essential.

How do you trigger this instinct in him? How do you give him a sense of meaning and purpose?

In an authentic way, you simply have to show your man what you need and allow him to step up to fulfill it.

In his new video, James Bauer outlines several things you can do. He reveals phrases, texts and little requests that you can use right now to make him feel more essential to you.

Here’s a link to the video again.

By triggering this very natural male instinct, you’ll not only give him greater satisfaction but it will remove all temptation to cheat in a relationship.

How men and women differ on what they consider cheating

A 2014 survey by Victoria Milan, an online dating site for people who are in relationships, looked into what men and women considered cheating. 

Here’s what they discovered: 

  1. 72 percent of men believed that sexual affairs were worse than emotional affairs.
  2. 69% of women said emotional affairs were worse than sexual affairs.
  3. 76% of people would forgive their partner for a strictly sexual affair.
  4. 80% percent of men said they would forgive their partner for an emotional affair.
  5. Only 30 percent of women would forgive an emotional affair.

Understanding infidelity and whether or not there is trust in the relationship

A relationship can be the most wonderful thing in your life, but it can also be the most difficult, confusing, and frustrating set-up you might ever have to deal with.

The best comes with the worst, which is why every traditional wedding vow includes the classic line: “I promise to be true to you in good times and bad.”

These bad times may have led to infidelity in your relationship.

Whether you were cheated on or whether you are doing the cheating – or both – your relationship is no longer as pure as it once was, and now you face the reality of confronting the future of your life with your partner, and whether or not it still makes sense.

But there are also instances where cheating is not really as clear-cut as it might seem. Just as how love is often infinitely complex and multi-faceted, so too can the infidelity that comes to unravel it.

While it’s possible for any outsider to look at a situation and correctly identify whether there is cheating going on or not, sometimes the answer to that question can only be found in the bond between two people.

But the truth is that cheating is actually not as difficult as we make it; it’s the existing relationship that blinds us to what is really going on.

Cheating is cheating and what it means to set the rules

We spend long nights debating with the voices in our head, asking ourselves: is it really cheating?

We take into consideration the reasons and the factors surrounding what happened – it was only texts, it was only a few pictures, it was only one night, it was only because they were so far away, it was only because we lost our connection, and a thousand more.

But the simple reality is that while love may be complex, cheating isn’t.

Cheating is cheating. Cheating is breaking the rules that you and your partner have set for each other.

And it doesn’t matter if you and your partner haven’t specifically stated and set every single rule out there – when you form a bond with someone, there is a unique expectation between the two of you.

So to determine whether someone has cheated in a relationship means asking whether both partners are on the same page.

Ask yourself the following questions:

– Are my partner and I on the same page in this relationship?
– Do we both have the same expectations of each other?
– If the relationship is new, have we discussed what our relationship is and what it means?

For example, let’s say that you’ve gone out on eight or nine dates with a person. You’ve kissed, you’ve spent the night together, you’ve spent weekends together, and you expect to see each other every week.

The problem is you’ve never actually discussed what your relationship is.

Then one day, you see the person you’ve been dating having a romantic dinner with another person.

You might feel hurt and betrayed, and you might feel like they are cheating.

But you are setting your own expectations and understanding of love and loyalty on another person.

When you confront them, they might say that they didn’t realize that you two were official or exclusive.

Whether that’s just a convenient excuse or not, they have a point – the establishment of parameters is necessary before you can claim that any cheating has occurred.

In cases such as these, both parties are playing with two different sets of rules, and therefore it can be difficult to say that any cheating has occurred.

The question isn’t: Is it cheating? The question is: Is it forgivable?

Does that mean you have to set every single possible rule with your partner to ensure an airtight contract when it comes to infidelity? Of course not.

For the most part, people often have the same basic expectations out of a relationship, in terms of staying true with one another. Some of these include:

– Monogamy
– Honesty
– Emotional openness
– Financial responsibility

Of course, there are couples who feel differently.

There are couples who have open relationships, sexually and emotionally; couples who engage in swinging parties; couples who don’t mind light flirting.

All of these are fine, as long as both parties agree to them.

It’s up to you and your partner to feel each other out and make sure you both have an understanding of what you expect from each other to feel safe and secure in your relationship.

While these conversations don’t have to happen directly and immediately at the start of the relationship, they should eventually occur slowly and gradually as the relationship grows and evolves.

It’s your job to make sure your partner feels happy, safe, and secure in their relationship, and it’s your partner’s job to ensure your own happiness and security, too.

Even if you haven’t discussed every possibility that could include cheating – anything from sending topless bathroom pics to an “old friend” to sharing a quick kiss with a co-worker at a bar one night – if it feels bad to you in your gut, then it is most likely a case of cheating in your relationship.

The details don’t matter. Just think about how it feels – have you betrayed your partner in any way, big or small? Have you let them down? Have you felt the need to hide the situation from them?

The simple line between cheating and not cheating doesn’t come down to the minute details. It comes down to loyalty, and loyalty is something only you and your partner can determine.

As the person who has been cheated on, the question you have to ask yourself isn’t: “is it cheating”, because in most cases, when you start feeling those negative feelings and you and your partner are on the same page, it is cheating. The question is simply: “Is it something I can forgive?

Did your partner cheat? The top 5 excuses

If you are currently dealing with the recent discovery that your partner has been cheating on you, there is a chance that instead of coming out and apologizing, they instead have tried to use various excuses and reasonings as to why their cheating “isn’t really cheating”. This can leave you confused and frustrated – part of you wants to believe them because you still love them, but another part of you knows it can’t be true.

Don’t let yourself be fooled. Here are five common excuses your partner might use to trick you:

1) The Excuse: “It Was Only Lust”

They might say…

– “It was only lust; it’s nothing like what you and I have.”
– “Men have a need to be sexual. It really doesn’t mean anything.”
– “I don’t even remember who she was! I never intended to see her again.”

The “It Was Only Lust” excuse generally comes from men who have been caught having a sexual relationship with another woman, but there are times when it can come from women as well.

They will try to guilt you into forgiving them – they might convince you that it’s partly your fault for not keeping yourself as sexy as you can be, or for not being as sexual as you once were. They will blame their manhood rather than take the responsibility, claiming that men were meant to have multiple partners and that monogamy is unrealistic. Regardless of whether they are right or not, they still betrayed you by sleeping with another person behind your back.

2) The Excuse: “It’s Just in the Head”

They might say…

– “How can we be lovers if we’ve never had sex?”
– “I’m not even attracted to him/her!”
– “You’ve met him/her several times. They’re your friend, we wouldn’t do that!”

In many cases of emotional affairs, the “It’s Just in the Head” excuse is the first method that cheaters use to try to get out of a sticky situation. This can also be considered a form of gaslighting, where they convince you that you’re imagining things or exaggerating something you know to be true, simply because you don’t have hard evidence to back you up.

Emotional affairs can happen with anyone when one person in a relationship is feeling like they are no longer being heard or cared for by their partner. Physical attraction can help, but the older you get, the more crucial the role emotional connection plays in securing a close bond.

And they generally also happen between two unhappy spouses from two different marriages. But they keep it “in the head” rather than allowing it to turn physical to avoid permanently messing up their first relationship.

3) The Excuse: “It’s Not Really an Affair”

They might say…

– “It’s not an affair, it’s a normal friendship.”
– “Neither of us are emotionally invested, it was just a one-time thing.”
– “If you didn’t find out, it would have ended without you getting hurt.”

When the cheater tells their partner that it’s not really an affair, they are trying to subvert both the physical aspect and the emotional aspect of the situation, downplaying it in both ways. It’s a common deflection tactic – they don’t want you to label what happened as an affair, because the first thing they want to ensure is that you no longer truly think of it as an affair, but something else.

It’s an illusion that they create for both their own benefit and the benefit of their partner. They don’t want to believe that they could be the kind of person who could participate in an affair, so they try to find loopholes to think of it as something else – since it was just once, or since it wasn’t really great sex, or since it wasn’t planned, then it couldn’t possibly be an affair.

4) The Excuse: “You Hurt Me First”

They might say…

– “You cheated on me before!”
– “You never really apologized for what you did to me!”
– “I stopped loving you after and you never worked for our love again!”

Cheating is never justified, but in some cases, it is understandable. When your partner cheats on you and you discover it out of the blue, it can feel like the rug was pulled from under your feet. The pain can take years to completely go away, if it ever fully does. In some cases, you might always see your partner with a certain darkened filter that adds a touch of resentment to every interaction.

In these relationships, the hurt partner can be tempted to cheat when the option presents itself, just so that they can get even on their partner. While it can make sense – an eye for an eye, after all – there are healthier ways to accomplish and resolve the unhappy emotions buried in the relationship. While it might be an act of revenge, it is still cheating.

5) The Excuse: “You Stopped Trying”

They might say…

– “You let yourself go and stopped taking care of your body.”
– “You don’t pay attention to me anymore.”
– “The relationship got boring!”

Getting married is a lifelong commitment, and like any lifelong commitment, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to stay totally focused on it the entire time. Your partner will try to convince you that their cheating is a reaction to your loss of interest in maintaining the fun, excitement, and general sexiness of the relationship.

While that might be true, that doesn’t mean it’s your fault, and that doesn’t mean your pain is something you deserve. Know that there are many better ways your partner could have handled the situation, and cheating is the last thing they should have done.

You, Your Partner, and the Lines Between Cheating and Not Cheating

We understand that not everyone reading this article is the victim of a possible case of cheating, but rather the perpetrator of it.

Cheating isn’t always done by bad people – sometimes you just want a little more out of life that your relationship doesn’t offer you, and you don’t know if what you might be planning to do – or what you might have already done – is reason enough to think of yourself as a cheater or not.

If you are about to make a choice that may or may not be cheating, here are some questions to ask yourself before you go through with it:

    • Do you feel guilty about it?
    • Would your partner be upset if they knew what it was? Why?
    • Why do you feel that you want to do it? What is missing from your relationship?
    • Have you discussed with your partner what might be missing from your relationship?
    • Is this a short-term need or a long-term need? A one-time event or something you want to be a part of your life?
    • Would you be embarrassed or ashamed if your friends and family found out?
    • Do you feel like your partner is unfairly trapping you in your relationship?

After asking yourself the questions above, you might want to ask yourself a final question: Do you still want to be part of this relationship?

Did Your Partner Cheat? Moving Forward After Betrayal

Discovering that your partner has cheated on you – or coming to terms with your infidelity as a partner – can be immensely difficult on anyone’s mind.

But an affair doesn’t always mean the end of a relationship, especially if you don’t want it to be. Relationships can still move forward after this kind of betrayal.

Consider the following:

  • Affairs can be psychologically healthy. They give both parties the opportunity to say the truth – something they might not have been able to do in a while.
  • Affairs can renew your relationship. Both partners, if they still feel love for each other, will be spurned into treating each other with renewed care and carefulness that can spark the old love up again.
  • Affairs help you understand yourselves. No one just ends up in bed with another person. One thing leads to another – find out what happened, for both you and your partner.

Talk to your partner. Understand their needs, and find out what the relationship means to them. Only then can you best understand – what is considered cheating in your relationship?

Now that you’ve read this article about cheating, check out our article about the signs your partner is cheating with a coworker.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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