What is Infidelity?

By: Emma Johnson, LMFTC

When you hear the word infidelity, what comes to mind? When you are told so and so is cheating on so and so, what does that mean? When you learn someone is having an affair, what are they doing? Is there a universal definition of infidelity or cheating? If you were to ask your mother, colleague, and accountant, would they all give you the same definition?

Infidelity cannot be universally defined because of everything it can include making it highly subjective. Since infidelity changes from person to person, it also changes from relationship to relationship. Determining whether infidelity is occurring in your relationship should be based on the expectations of the relationship and violating the set forth expectations, could be considered cheating.

What can cheating look like?

  • Online dating
  • Frequent messaging/texting
  • Flirtatious messages
  • Dancing with someone else at a club
  • Pornography
  • OnlyFans (or other similar sites)
  • Emotional connection/attachment
  • Fantasizing about someone else
  • Having romantic or sexual feelings toward someone else
  • Spending time with those you have feelings for
  • Going to a strip club
  • Kissing
  • Physical connection (non-sexual touch)
  • Ex. Holding hands, giving massages, or cuddling
  • Keeping in touch with your ex
  • Sexual intimacy
  • Prioritizing interests or hobbies
  • Financial infidelity

Now, while most of the above are self-explanatory, let’s review the few that may require more of an explanation.

Pornography Vs. OnlyFans:

Both pornography and OnlyFans can be accessed via your web browser, so what is the difference? The primary difference is that while pornography sites can be accessed free of charge, OnlyFans is a subscription-based platform that requires a form of payment on file to access content. For some, accessing and viewing pornography and getting pleasure from this constitutes cheating. However, for others, not only is this acceptable, but something the couple may enjoy doing together.

In regards to OnlyFans, someone must explicitly pay to experience and engage. Again, to some, this may be something they are okay engaging with individually or jointly, however, to others, this crosses the line of being exclusively together. If this is relevant to your relationship, first consider whether there is a difference between pornography and OnlyFans. Beyond this, does the type of pornography or content your partner is watching factor into whether it constitutes cheating? Is there a difference if your partner is watching “vanilla porn” versus “BDSM porn?” Does one constitute cheating while the other does not? How come?

Prioritizing Interests or Hobbies:

For some, devoting your time to an interest or hobby instead of your partner can constitute cheating. If your partner is feeling as if they are not prioritized yet other interests are, they may feel they are constantly fighting for time and acknowledgment in the relationship. Putting time and interest into something other than your partner is a form of an object affair, as that object is being placed first. If this is relevant to your relationship, think about whether the type of object matters. Is there a difference if your partner begins prioritizing video games versus gardening? Does one constitute cheating while the other does not? How come?

Financial Infidelity:

For some, hiding expenses can be considered cheating. For those who feel that this is cheating, it is oftentimes due to the fact that your partner has been keeping secrets and broken trust. The reasoning for financial infidelity could be a multitude of factors – fueling a habit (gambling, gaming, shopping, etc), alcohol and or drug use, spending on someone else, or debt. Again, ask yourself, does the reason these secrets were held play into your decision of whether this is or is not cheating? Is there a difference if your partner has been keeping their spending from you because they are gambling versus spending money on someone else? Does one constitute cheating while the other does not? How come?

As we have established, each individual will hold their own perception and definition of what infidelity is, however, there are studies that show there are similarities in terms of gender definitions. Studies show females more often consider emotional connections outside of their relationship a form of cheating, and furthermore, a more significant form of cheating than a physical affair, whereas, males are less likely to consider emotional connections a form of cheating, and oftentimes place a higher emphasis on a physical affair.

The takeaway from this article is that cheating is subjective, and oftentimes, is not agreed upon. That being said, determining a collaborative and clear definition of infidelity when in a relationship is crucial. Go through the above list of possible actions and ask yourself whether it constitutes cheating, and if it does, is your partner aware? Does your partner have the same views? Whether you have been in a relationship for two months, two years, or two decades, setting expectations of what it means to be together is essential to your relationship’s wellbeing. By previously agreeing upon a definition and expectations of the relationship, you have made an agreement with one another. To violate this agreement, would be cheating, which is as good of a definition as we can give.

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