What counts as cheating in a relationship? Is it only when you sleep with someone who's not your partner? Or is "emotional cheating" also a thing? What about watching porn while in a committed relationship—is that cheating, too?
These are some of the most frequently asked questions in the dating and relationships space. They’re also some of the hardest to answer because what is considered cheating in a relationship differs among couples. Add the opinions of psychologists, therapists, life coaches, and even divorce lawyers, and it’s like a jungle out there.
Still, if you sift through all the differing opinions, you’ll find some common denominators in the definition of cheating. And since that should form a good foundation for understanding what counts as cheating in a relationship, it’s smart to start there.
Let’s try to answer, once and for all, what counts as cheating and what doesn’t.
What Cheating Is and What Counts as Cheating in a Relationship
Let’s start with the base definition. Cheating all boils down to one thing: A betrayal of trust.
In practice, that means something that’s supposed to only be enjoyed between committed partners gets enjoyed by only one of the partners and with a third party.
This is what most people understand cheating to be. Simple, right?
Now, here’s where things get pretty complicated:
- That “something that’s supposed to be enjoyed solely between committed partners” varies widely. For instance, while some people believe harmless flirting with a third party is cheating, others don’t.
- Also, that “third party” can also vary widely. Some people would say it’s only cheating if that third party is a person, while others would say objects—such as hobbies and even close female friends—also count as third parties.
And that’s why it’s not easy to establish a single, unifying definition for cheating. We can try, however, and that’s precisely what this article will do.
Ultimately, what counts as cheating in a relationship depends on the partners in that relationship. The rules are no more and no less than what the partners discuss and agree upon.
Now let’s see how that plays out in the many different kinds of monogamous relationships out there.
What about non-committed relationships?
Let’s talk about casual relationships, friends-with-benefits, and open relationships. These setups are non-committed and non-exclusive, right? So is it still cheating if you’re in such a relationship with another person, and yet you slept with someone else?
Again, it’ll depend on what you and your partner in that relationship have decided on. It’s important to talk about and establish “the rules” because problems only crop up when you don’t.
For example, if you’re in a friends-with-benefits relationship, you might agree with your partner on the following rules:
- No exclusive commitment with each other
- You meet once every 1-2 weeks for sex
- No kissing and telling
In such a relationship, you wouldn’t be cheating if you slept with someone else. However, you might be cheating if you don’t see your partner for over two weeks or if you told a third party about them.
See how it works? This is why establishing rules unique to your relationship is so important. With them, things go smoothly and breakups are amicable. Without them, things get pretty messy.
What is Classed as Cheating When You’re “Seeing Each Other”?
Is it possible to cheat on someone when you’re just seeing each other? Let’s say you’re still dating and getting to know each other. You’re not in a serious relationship yet and one of you continues to meet and see other people. Does that count as cheating?
Technically, the answer is “No” unless you and the person you’re seeing have established rules to only see each other. Also, if there are overarching rules in play—such as if one or both of you belong to a conservative religion with established rules on dating—they’ll decide whether something is considered cheating or not.
(SIDE NOTE: This doesn’t stop you from creating rules for yourself, which we highly recommend. If you haven’t already, bookmark this article on how to be a better man and read it later. It’ll give you a clearer vision of what you really want in life—and that includes your standards and boundaries for meeting and dating new women.)
What Counts as Cheating in a Serious Relationship?
Now we get to where it really matters. What counts as cheating in a serious relationship? There are four kinds to watch out for:
- Physical cheating
- Emotional cheating
- Financial cheating
- Object cheating
Let’s take a look at each one in turn:
#1: The Physical Kind
This is the most commonly known kind of cheating out there. It’s all about sleeping with someone who’s not your partner in a committed relationship without the latter knowing about it. Some may count kissing, hugging, and fondling as cheating as well.
Ironically, it’s also the kind of cheating that’s among the hardest to spot because it’s easy for cheaters to cover their tracks. Their affairs are known only to them and their secret lover, they meet only for sex, and they never tell anyone.
So it’s not unusual for men and women, including married ones, to have affairs that no one ever finds out about.
Physical cheating is also the kind of cheating that men fear most. Since men are more attuned to the physical aspect of sex and attraction more than the emotional side, men who get cheated on feel like they’ve been judged by their woman and found wanting. It cuts deep.
(SIDE NOTE: If you’re a man and you have a sneaking suspicion your girlfriend or wife is seeing someone behind your back, our complete list of telltale physical signs that your woman might be cheating on you can help. Don’t feel bad about your suspicions—when it comes to your love life, it’s better safe than sorry.)
#2: The Emotional Kind
Meanwhile, this is the kind of cheating the ladies fear most. Emotional cheating is turning to someone other than your partner to have your emotional needs met. This includes:
- Never revealing your deepest fears to your partner, but confiding in someone else
- Sharing your ups and downs with your secret lover, but never with your partner
- Complaining about your marital problems with another person, yet never talking about it with your partner
This may sound harmless, but emotional cheating almost inevitably leads to physical cheating. So if you’ve been confiding in your ex lately, you might want to stop before things get worse.
(By the way: Are you a guy in a relationship, but for some reason, your ex is still texting you? What’s the deal? Learn what’s really going on—and quickly, because you might be stepping into a trap.)
#3: The Financial Kind
Aside from infidelity, financial problems cause more divorces than any other reason. And the financial kind of cheating tends to cause most of these problems.
What qualifies as financial cheating?
- Taking on debt without the partner knowing
- Undisclosed spending
- Ferreting away some of the couple’s joint finances into a secret individual account somewhere
Financial cheating is especially damaging to marriages, as most married couples have joint finances. Such infidelity undermines the relationship’s financial health and erodes trust.
#4: The Object Kind
Lastly, there’s the kind of cheating you do with an object—such as a hobby, an addiction, your friends, pornography, etc. Most people would consider it cheating if objects like these robbed their relationship of too much time, money, or energy.
Here are some common examples of “object cheating”:
- Spending the family’s savings on extravagant toys, hobbies, or vacations
- Spending too many evenings out with friends instead of your partner or family
- Spending your energy on pornography and masturbation instead of with your partner
Speaking of porn: An addiction to it is probably one of the worst kinds of object cheating there is. Left unchecked, it can rob a relationship of the passion it needs to survive. If you suffer from it, you’re lucky—there are lots of apps and services out there that help you beat the addiction and save your relationship.
Can a Relationship Be Saved After Cheating?
We answered this question in our article about the possibility of saving a marriage after infidelity. Here’s the quick answer, though: It’s quite possible, and there are tried-and-tested ways of making a relationship even stronger after a cheating incident.
On the flip side, the relationship will never be the same again, and that can be a difficult pill to swallow.
SIDE NOTE: Here’s a bit of advice for our male readers: If you’re the one who cheated and now feel really bad about it, should you confess to your significant other? Believe it or not, it may not be a good idea. If this is your situation, read our guide before you do anything. You might be about to make a critical mistake.
So, is there any cheating going on in your relationship? Hopefully, this article has shed some light on the matter, and now you know just how healthy your relationship is and what to do moving forward. Good luck!