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What is Considered Cheating?

My friend Ian asked me the other night, “Ryan, what is considered cheating to you? Like, do you think that DM’ing someone on Instagram is cheating?” Well, yeah, it is—actually. And here’s why… You’re not being committed to your partner. And that’s not a good thing at all…

Unfortunately, cheating exists everywhere, whether in gambling, academics, sports, or business. Not everyone does it, but this act of deception or dishonesty to gain an unfair advantage over others is still prevalent. In a romantic relationship, it’s also termed as infidelity and can take a toll on the person’s mental and physical health who has been cheated.

What is considered cheating in a relationship? It’s pretty complicated as it’s more of a subjective approach, unlike in businesses or sports, where there are specific rules to consider an act of cheating. It mainly depends on the couples and the boundaries are drawn.

What is considered cheating? Any type of lack of commitment will cause problems in a relationship.
What is considered cheating? Any type of lack of commitment will cause problems in a relationship.

Different Types Of Cheating

—What is considered cheating?

Emotional Cheating

Most people may be unable to identify this cheating type as it’s more of an emotional attachment. Here someone shares intimate and everyday details with the third party. Note that some share close relationships outside romantic relationships, and it’s fine unless you cross the boundary. There is a blurry line that one needs to be able to distinguish.

It becomes problematic when you start hiding from your partner or giving more attention to the person outside of a relationship. In short, an emotional cheater gives attention, energy, and time not to their romantic partner but to the one outside relationship. In fact, it spends less time with its other half, which results in neglect or less attention.

Here are some examples of emotional cheating:

  • Sending sexual/ romantic letters or texts to someone else.
  • Acts like a couple to the person other than its partner minus physical intimacy.
  • Share long phone conversations with the person without the knowledge of their romantic partner.
  • Hiding your relationship with this person from your partner, thinking they might take it wrong.
  • Finding comfort in the other person and keeping your distance from your romantic partner.

Physical Cheating

It’s a type of cheating that most are familiar with and able to identify instantly, unlike emotional ones. This type of cheating involves a sexual relationship with a certain person outside the relationship.

Some people are also in a polymerous relationship with multiple romantic partners at once. Even in this case, physical cheating may happen unless there are boundaries between the partners.

Physical cheating happens when you give in to your sexual desires to someone else. Even if you are content with your partner, you still have intimate relations with others.

Some examples of physical cheating are as follows:

  • Having physical intimacy with someone without the knowledge of your romantic partner.
  • Sharing intimate moments with others in the absence of your partner.

See also: Messages to a cheating boyfriend


This type of cheating is slightly similar to the emotional type, but here it leans more toward behaviors. For instance, you get upset seeing your partner have a close, passionate relationship with their ex-lover. Maybe it’s out of love or emotional attachment, but one tends to overlook this factor and often ends up being cheated or left out.

Micro-cheaters don’t break their relationship with their partners yet maintain a close relationship with the outside party. They stay in a relationship yet simultaneously keep their distance or slowly push away their romantic partner. This form of cheating may be hard to identify but pay heed to your instincts as it may help you determine it.

Here are some of the common examples of micro-cheating:

  • Catching up with your ex-lover and seeking an emotional relationship.
  • Creates intimate vibes and energy with someone other than your romantic partner.
  • Keeping close contact with your crushes instead of maintaining a distance from them.
  • Fantasizing about someone else instead of your partner.

See also: Messages to a cheating girlfriend

Digital Cheating

With the rise of social media and dating apps, many are prone to cheating with their partners online. It’s referred to as digital or online cheating, where you share sexual or personal details with someone other than your partner. This kind of cheating is mainly virtual and doesn’t involve meeting in person.

However, you share the most intimate details and get secretive. Your partner is unaware of your secret account in a dating app or close contact with someone through social media. Some couples are okay with this kind of relationship or set a boundary. There is no issue if there is mutual understanding, but once you do it behind your partner’s back, it’s considered cheating.

Below are some examples of digital cheating:

  • Asking or sending nudes to someone else.
  • Sliding into the DMs of others with flirty messages without the knowledge of your partner.
  • Sharing detailed emotional information to the person without your partner’s consent or knowledge.
  • Keeps a secret account on Tinder or other dating apps and pretends to be single.

See also: Signs of cheating

What is considered cheating? The reality is that if you have to ask, you should do some inner work.
What is considered cheating? The reality is that if you have to ask, you should do some inner work.

Importance Of Creating Boundaries In A Relationship

It should be noted that behaviors listed above may not consider cheating by some couples. Everyone has different definitions, and it’s mainly subjective. Regardless, drawing boundaries or having a mutual understanding with partners is essential to promote a healthy romantic relationship.

Honesty is vital in a relationship; couples should be honest about their feelings or views. For example, if you don’t like your partner having contact with past lovers, confide in it instead of keeping it to yourself. However, be gentle with the approach instead of being aggressive or accusive.

Or, if you are a flirty type of person, be honest about it instead of hiding it. It’s like a heads-up to your partner, allowing them to know what they are getting into. Besides, both you and your partner can come to terms or a compromise. Doing this prevents hiding from each other or being secretive.

Being in a romantic relationship may not be as rosy as you see in movies. Infidelity is common in relationships which could be due to multiple factors such as commitment issues, unmet desires, frustration, and more. Either way, being upfront in relationships is advisable instead of resorting to deceptions. It’s better to end on a good note than being than find out. For example, if you find this relationship is not working, talk to your partner about it. If you want out, do it instead of following the deception route.

What Causes Cheating In A Relationship?

As we have mentioned above, multiple factors cause infidelity in a relationship. The reasons may not be the same for everyone. Some do it due to unmet desires or unhappiness in a relationship, while others give in to their desires.

That said, let’s take a look into some of the common factors that cause cheating in a relationship:

  • Some people tend to cheat on their partners out of anger or as revenge. For instance, you discovered your partner having an affair behind your back. So, to get back, you return the same energy. In some cases, less attention from the partner also leads to infidelity.
  • Every relationship goes through a stale phase. It is not exciting or passionate like at the earlier stage. You may feel like the spark is gone or don’t love the person anymore, and it often leads to dishonesty or motivates having an affair secretly. A relationship without romantic attachment leads to infidelity, and it would be better to get out of it than to hurt your other half.
  • Some cheating can be situational. For instance, a lack of physical intimacy from your partner may lead you to have an affair with someone else. Or you had a lot of drinks with your colleague and thus ended up in a compromise situation.
  • In some relationships, there are cases of commitment issues. A person may have feelings for someone but is not ready to get official. It results in cheating to avoid committing a relationship. In short, some prefer a casual or open affair to being loyal.
  • Giving in to sexual desires also causes infidelity, including in people who have a fulfilling physical intimacy with their partners.

Expert advice: “Once a cheater, always a cheater” is not just a saying. It is true. Research has shown the person who cheats will always do it. It might be time to part ways and start fresh.

Coping With Infidelity In A Relationship

Being cheated by your partner can be a grueling experience affecting both your mental and physical health. Some may have a strong coping mechanism, while others find it difficult to overcome. It strains the relationship and causes a lack of trust which is vital in a romantic bond.

Here are some suggestions on how to deal with cheating:

If you are being cheated on

Discovering your partner’s affairs behind your back may be the hardest thing. It affects you mentally and loses trust in future relationships as well. Some take time to heal, while others still loom over the past. Time only heals if you let it go and look for the bright side.

Confront your partner, but before that, let the information process properly. Don’t act in an impulsive manner, as it will only worsen the situation but wait for the right time to have a conversation. Calm your mind first and emotions together so that there is a rational confrontation with your partner. To forgive or not is up to you, but it’s important to hear their side of the story regardless of their deeds.

Don’t be harsh on yourself but give yourself time to heal. You can take a mini-break from the relationship or fully cut off if it’s affecting your well-being. If this relationship with your partner is toxic or taxing you, it will be better to get out of it despite your strong feelings.

If both of you plan to work, give a chance to your partner to redeem their mistakes. Your trust may have sunk, but it’s okay to let them make it up for it. Everyone deserves a chance, and if your partner is genuinely sorry, it may only strengthen the bond.

It’s also necessary to discuss sexual health with your partner. Since your partner is exposed to another person, it will be better to get a test to see if you have caught any sexual-related diseases. Many couples may take this lightly, but it’s important and should be taken seriously.

If you have cheated on someone

Cheating on your partner causes irreparable damages, and it’s only fair that you take accountability. Once you have broken their trust, it’s hard to gain back. If you truly apologize for your deeds, apologize sincerely and listen to their hue and cries.

Regardless of the factors, dishonesty in a relationship is not good. Either you get out of it or be upfront with your partner about your feelings. Gaining your partner’s trust may take time, and you should give them space to heal.

Give due attention to their needs and be a good listener. Ultimately, it’s you who has done wrong, so you have to own up to it. It would be an excellent time to strengthen the bond and be more sincere with your feelings. You can also get therapy if required or couple therapy with your partner.

Broken relationships can mend if both sides agree to work on it. If you are sorry for what you did, put extra effort into getting their trust back. You should also share your feelings with your partner so that they will understand your needs. Communication is essential to maintain a healthy bond with your partner. It prevents you from being secretive or motivates you to cheat.

Conclusion—What is Considered Cheating?

What is considered cheating or infidelity varies according to individuals. It’s subjective, and every couple has certain terms or boundaries. Eventually, it is up to an individual to forgive their cheating partner. Being cheated by someone you love hurts a lot and can take a mental toll.

However, it’s crucial to move on, although it’s complicated. Forgiving someone might be difficult after what they have done, but giving them a second chance is okay if they own up to their mistakes. Take time to heal, and in times taking advice from your close ones would help you find answers.

Fact checked:
Board reviewed by Marianne Tomlinson, LCSW (Couples and Family Therapy). Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Learn more.

About the author

Ryan Sanderson (LCSW) Ryan is a game and relationship enthusiast who enjoys all things quizzes, games, fun, love, relationships, and family. He's a licensed social worker and helps families, couples, and children in need. He's spoken about love and relationships on Salon.com, Forbes, and Mirror, to name a few.

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