Things are open to interpretation. This goes for your house all the way up to the White House. Words like sex, infidelity, cheating, flirting, and intimacy must be defined before they can be determined to have occurred. For the most part, unless you are in a non-monogamous relationship, having sexual relations with someone other than your partner is considered cheating. Of course, some couples may view only particular sex acts as off-limits. And then there’s emotional infidelity as well.

What is emotional infidelity?

There is a lot of room for interpretation here. However, it all comes down to emotional unavailability. There are situations that interfere with your ability to be available to your partner. This will impact your relationship. Therefore, it may be the type of behavior that counts as cheating.

A major factor is intent. But sometimes, this is not clear even to the person pushing the boundaries. Increasingly, couples are taking such issues to marriage counseling. It’s incredibly helpful to discuss blurry lines long before those lines get crossed. After all, infidelity is not uncommon.

Why do people cheat?

We know the majority of cheaters are male. As for what provokes the cheating, the reasons are varied. Some common excuses given in studies includes

  • The relationship is not sexually satisfying
  • Desire for more than one sex partner
  • Emotional issues in the relationship
  • Falling out of love or in love with someone new
  • Revenge

However, these reasons and the studies that revealed them can’t fully expose the full range of infidelity.

What counts as cheating?

To repeat, this is up to both partners to decide. But here are a few issues worth considering:

  1. Telling someone you’re not in a relationship

When you’re in love and enjoying a healthy relationship, what would be your motivation to lie about it? Let’s say the cashier at your local supermarket is friendly/flirty and laughingly asks if you’re single. Saying “yes” is dishonest and can be seen as a form of betrayal. Ask yourself how your partner would feel if they had witnessed that exchange.

  1. Not telling your partner about certain interactions

You’re taking your time to craft an email when your partner enters the room. If you swiftly change screens, there might be something inappropriate going on. Talk regularly with each other about your non-couple time. What’s appropriate? What needs to be discussed in advance?

  1. Texting pictures/Chatting

Obviously, sexting and “send nudes” can be inappropriate. But that muscle flexing photo you just texted might have pushed beyond the realm of acceptable, too. Modern technology allows for new ways to express infidelity—especially when it involves keeping secrets.

  1. Flirting (in all its many guises)

What’s the threshold for double entendres and cute comebacks? It can be as simple as imagining your partner seeing a video of the exchange. If that thought makes you squirm, you’ve passed the threshold.

  1. Pornography

Porn is everywhere and becoming more mainstream. It’s also ruining lives and relationships. There’s nothing “harmless” about an industry that relies on trafficking and equates abuse with arousal. Strong boundaries are imperative here.

Each couple gets to decide what they define as cheating. No matter what’s on that list, it all comes down to a single word: betrayal. You may feel only physical interactions are off-limits. Someone else perceives those photos you texted or those secrets you kept as a line being crossed. Either way, one partner feels betrayed. It’s important to have clear and defined understanding between you what your agreements are around fidelity. Have the conversation be specific. Make sure you understand and agree to what your partner wants and vice a versa. You may need to set or re-set boundaries. Perhaps your relationship requires emergency care because a betrayal has already happened. . Sometimes these can be difficult conversations that require a third party. Whatever the case, airing things out in the presence of a mediator is a proven path towards resolution.