By: Leah Hovey
Most people would agree that infidelity is not accepted in todays society and it is often considered shameful to cheat, but the majority of individuals get into a relationship expecting their new partner to stay faithful when they have never had a conversation about what that means. There are even distinct differences between men and women in their opinions on cheating. “physical infidelity unnerves men a lot more than emotional cheating, whereas the opposite is true for women” (Huffington Post, 2019). There are many ways a person could be unfaithful to another and so many people have separate definitions about what they think cheating is. When asked online about how people define cheating, these were some of the responses given:
“Its only cheating when my partner gets physically intimate with another person.”
“If it happened when he/she was drinking then I might make an exception…”
“Cheating is doing anything that you know your partner would feel uncomfortable with; without them there.”
“Emotional cheating is worse than physical cheating”
“I do not mind my partner watching pornography as long as they do not go to online chat rooms”
“I am personally not comfortable with strip clubs.”
“Micro Cheating is a real problem”
“Cheating consists of seeing someone and not telling your significant other. If you know you want something out of seeing that person, that's cheating.
“Cheating is not just physical stuff I personally feel you can emotionally cheat on someone too”
It’s important to note the variability in all these responses. Esther Perel, a psychologist specializing in couples therapy explained why having these very different definitions can be detrimental. “...the definition of infidelity keeps on expanding: sexting, watching porn, staying secretly active on dating apps. So because there is no universally agreed-upon definition of what even constitutes an infidelity, estimates vary widely, from 26 percent to 75 percent [of individuals who cheat]” (17:35, TedTalk). This is a valid observation as we all have our beliefs on what cheating is, or is not. The definitions of infidelity are socially constructed and vary across the globe (Moller & Vossler, 2015). Even within open relationships there are boundaries and lines that the individuals do not want their significant others to cross.
So what does this mean for us? This means that everyone and every couple has different beliefs on infidelity. While there are some circumstances where you can assume your partner would be uncomfortable with, there are some circumstances you will need to talk to your partner about. Pursuing an emotional affair or a physical affair will, more likely than not, hurt your partner. However, for smaller, more intimate details such as pornography use, adult entertainment clubs, massages or online chat rooms; talk to your partner about what you both are comfortable with. Asking your partner what would make he or she uncomfortable will open up a dialogue to a bigger conversation about infidelity. You and your partner may be okay with each other going to massage parlours or adult entertainment clubs but you need to have that conversation beforehand.
Infidelity hurts more than anything and nobody wants to go through a situation where they feel as though their partners were unfaithful. It is better to talk about what cheating means to each other than find out later on. Discussing each other’s views on infidelity and defining what it means to you can help prevent bigger arguments in the future.
Moller, N. P., & Vossler, A. (2015). Defining infidelity in research and couple counseling: A qualitative study. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 41(5), 487-497.
Perel, E. (2015, March). Rethinking infidelity...a talk for anything who has ever loved [Video file]. Retrieved from
Wong, B., & Wong, B. (2019, January 12). What Counts As Cheating? Six Couples Define Infidelity. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/how-couples-define-cheating-infidelity_us_5c38deaee4b01c93e009a691