January 8, 2023 |Gideon Hanekom

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This post will help you learn more about what’s cheating in a relationship and offer tips on how to avoid them.


First things first – What constitutes cheating in a relationship?

Simple question, right?

Cheating in a relationship is an age-old issue that has existed since the dawn of time.

Despite that, however, it can be challenging to define cheating because every couple is different.

In fact, as strange as it may sound, it is frequently up to the couple to determine what constitutes cheating in their own relationship because the notion of cheating in a relationship can be interpreted differently depending on each partner’s point of view.

Yet, despite that being so, cheating in a relationship is one of the most damaging things that can happen to a couple in a relationship.

Therefore, it is critical to establish ground rules and expectations early on in order to define what constitutes cheating in your relationship.

When it comes to issues like cheating, it’s essential to be honest and open with your partner about what you want and what you won’t accept.

However, many couples may get stuck here because what exactly constitutes cheating in general?

what's cheating in a relationship

What exactly are they looking for?

Is flirting at a year-end function, for example, considered cheating?

Is online chatting considered cheating?

What about using online gaming to connect with someone and become more personal?

What about the more difficult questions, such as:

What does it mean for two people to have an “agreement” in a romantic relationship?

How do the feelings and perspectives of both parties influence whether or not cheating occurs?

Does the intent behind the act of cheating matter in determining whether it is wrong?

Is there any situation in which cheating can be excused or forgiven?

Is there a fundamental distinction between physical and emotional cheating?

What if one partner emotionally abandoned or disconnected from the other, leading to the other partner “cheating”?

Does the nature of the relationship and the couple’s mutually held expectations impact how cheating is defined? And what happens if one party’s expectations shift, but the other’s do not?

How does the definition of cheating in society influence our own personal beliefs, definitions, expectations, and boundaries?

Are there any situations in which one partner does not consider an act to be cheating while their partner does?

Can someone cheat without intending to, or does intent always play a role?

Or is it simply a matter of personal boundaries and expectations?

As you can see, when you think about it, it’s not that simple.

However, getting clarity in your relationship is critical for a number of reasons.

Why knowing what’s cheating in a relationship is important

The first and most important reason for having a better understanding of what cheating is is that it helps any couple maintain a healthy and strong relationship.

That is because by understanding what constitutes cheating, a couple can avoid many of the issues that come with it, such as jealousy, insecurity, and mistrust.

what's cheating in a relationship

Furthermore, knowing what cheating is can help a couple identify when something is wrong in their relationship and address it before it escalates into an affair.

A couple, for example, who has agreed on the lines that should not be crossed may be able to detect an affair early on and work together to avoid it.

That can help prevent relationship damage and save individuals from the heartbreak of infidelity, which is discussed further below.

Finally, having a better understanding of what cheating is can help a couple communicate more effectively and build trust in their relationship by increasing understanding and setting clearer boundaries.

That way, both parties can be on the same page with regard to values and commitments, and open communication can take place regarding expectations.

By doing so, partners can learn to spot warning signs of infidelity and take corrective action to protect their relationships.

Ultimately, it helps to create a safe space for honest communication and trust between partners if both parties are aware of the signs of cheating and are willing to have an open conversation about it.

In summary, if you and your partner have a more refined definition of cheating, you will be better equipped to avoid the pitfalls associated with it, spot potential problems in your relationship before they escalate, and engage in open, honest communication that fosters trust.

All of these are valid reasons to gain a better understanding of what cheating is rather than relying solely on what you know or, worse, have come to believe is normal.

Just picture yourself in a relationship where you accept your partner’s verbal or physical abuse as the norm because that’s all you’ve ever known or experienced.

You’d think that’s how things are and maybe even how you’re supposed to act.

Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know.

When you learn what cheating is, it can change how you see what is cheating and what isn’t.

The truth is that it is challenging to define cheating because every couple and relationship is unique, as strange as that may sound.

Your definitions, your partner’s expectations, your own sense of what’s acceptable, and the type of relationship you have all play a role.

However, the good news is that there are numerous specialists and relationship experts who have weighed in on this subject, so you won’t have to look very far to find some excellent advice and guidelines.

So, what exactly is cheating in a relationship, and how can we define it simply and usefully (though not necessarily perfectly)?

What’s cheating in a relationship according to some experts?

According to some psychologists and relationship experts, cheating in a relationship is defined as the situation in which one partner in a marriage or intimate relationship becomes sexually or emotionally involved with a person other than the partner’s spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend.

It also typically involves breaking a commitment or promise (formal or informal) made to the other partner.

At a most basic level, trust is perhaps the core issue when it comes to cheating in a relationship.

Because without trust, it is usually tricky (even impossible) for couples to maintain a healthy and functioning relationship.

When one partner suspects the other of cheating, it often leads to mistrust, fear, and anger that can erode the bond between them.

That will often lead to further issues such as jealousy, possessiveness, and ultimately a breakdown of the relationship.

what's cheating in a relationship

With that in mind, cheating can have severe emotional and psychological impacts on both partners and their lives, as well as any children they may have, and often result in things such as grief, brain changes, chronic stress, depression and anxiety.

So, if cheating is such a damaging thing, why do people still step into that trap and go down that path?

That, unfortunately, is extremely difficult to answer because it is such a complex issue with many underlying causes.

Cheating can be the result of a variety of factors, such as feelings of dissatisfaction in a relationship, feelings of insecurity or low self-esteem, an inability to resist temptation or a desire for excitement and novelty.

For some people, cheating could be an outlet for frustration or a way to seek attention, comfort, control and validation.

It could also be a way to fulfil unsatisfied sexual needs, a last resort for fulfilling sexual needs, or an act of revenge.

With that being said, however, one could argue that in all cases, it is a sign of immaturity, insecurity, impulsivity, and selfishness (Do you agree with that? Let me know in the comments below).

In addition, people may cheat for reasons related to their individual values, beliefs, and life experiences, making it even more challenging to pinpoint a single cause.

At the end of the day, it’s much easier to define what cheating is in a relationship than it is to isolate any one reason why someone would still cheat despite knowing the severe consequences of infidelity, like the demise of a relationship, resentment, tension with family and friends, feelings of betrayal, or in some extreme cases, even domestic violence, breakups, divorce or even homicide.

Ultimately, in my mind, the takeaway message when thinking about cheating in relationships is that early on communication is vital.

As I’ve mentioned, cheating is a major breach of trust that can cause significant damage to the relationship and all the parties involved, children and extended family included.

If you or your partner have ever been tempted to cheat, it is essential to talk openly and honestly about it sooner rather than later. Or at least if you value your current partner and relationship.

Doing that can help to rebuild the trust in your relationship and prevent any further or future hurt.

Ultimately, couples should strive to create an open and honest atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding in order to maintain a healthy relationship.

The old adage, “you get out what you put into something” most definitely applies in this instance.

If you have any helpful thoughts or experiences you’d like to share on this topic, please leave them below in the comments section.


2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/infidelity
3. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cheat%20on
4. https://www.nowtolove.com.au/relationships/relationship-advice/cheating-affairs-relationships-71571
5. https://www.bolde.com/9-consequences-being-unfaithful-relationship/
6. https://www.bonobology.com/expert-lists-effects-cheating-relationship/
7. https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/caught-cheating-in-college/
8. https://theinternationalpsychologyclinic.com/the-psychology-behind-cheating/
9. https://blog.ipleaders.in/cheating-a-criminal-offence-under-the-indian-penal-code/
10. https://successiblelife.com/what-cheating-says-about-a-person/
11. https://psychcentral.com/health/long-term-psychological-effects-of-infidelity
12. https://www.brides.com/different-types-of-infidelity-1102872
13. https://mindsplain.com/why-people-cheat/

About the author

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a popular relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website helps couples to create happier, healthier, and more intimate relationships. Gideon is a trained professional counsellor and holds post-graduate degrees in Theology and Psychology. His articles have also been featured on respected platforms such as Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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