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What Constitutes Cheating in a Relationship?

by Dawn Sutton

The term "cheating" can refer to any activity that creates an "unfair advantage" typically to further one's own interest and largely at the expense of others. Cheating may involve violating moral and ethical codes of behavior and often applies to relationships when one or both members cross the boundaries of an exclusive relationship. Couples must define the boundaries of their relationship clearly so they will know when infidelity has occurred.

Relationship Boundaries

Two people in a relationship must have an explicit mutual agreement in place to understand and define what constitutes cheating according to their specific agreement. In an exclusive relationship wherein a couple has made a verbal agreement that neither partner will date another person, for example, one partner who dates another person is cheating, as the act violates the terms of their specific agreement. Whether a relationship has unspoken expectations in place is not always clear.

Infidelity vs. Adultery

The definition of infidelity may vary with cultural beliefs; typically, however, infidelity is any violation of a mutual agreement regarding the boundaries of a personal relationship. Adultery, on the other hand, is a legal term that specifically addresses sexual infidelity. Infidelity may or may not include sexual relations. Pornography use has become more and more evident as a factor in divorce cases and broken relationships. It's not that far-fetched to deem porn use as an act of infidelity when you consider that a partner may be bringing another person into his relationship whether in person or on a TV or computer monitor. Again, if you and your partner have agreed not to become emotionally or sexually/physically involved with any other person, doing so would constitute cheating based on your relationship agreement.

Internet Infidelity

Internet infidelity has actually served as grounds for divorce in recent years. Partners may develop an emotionally intimate relationship online with a person they never meet in person and maintain an emotional affair outside of their relationship. In addition, a partner may meet someone online and then begin seeing him in person behind her partner's back, which may or may not involve sexual intimacy. Partners may also be involved with people outside their relationship by way of texting or "sexting" messages on cell phones.

Emotional Affairs

When one partner looks to another person outside of his relationship to meet his emotional needs, he may find himself in an emotional affair. Basically, he is being emotionally intimate with someone other than his partner. If you and your partner have clearly agreed not to have emotionally intimate relations with other people, a partner who becomes emotionally involved with another person may be guilty of cheating through emotional infidelity.

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