What Is Cheating In A Relationship? What Counts And What Doesn’t

For the sake of clarity, let us define cheating as having an intimate emotional or physical/sexual relationship with someone outside of your love relationship.

This definition is meant to clear up the idea that some may have about what it is to cheat on your partner. That is, the notion that unless sex is involved there is no cheating.

In other words, if you are forming an intimate emotional attachment with someone outside of your relationship that you keep secret, you are betraying the trust that your partner has in you, thus cheating on them.

Emotionally attaching yourself to another outside of your primary relationship is an obvious cause for alarm. When a partner looks to another for something they seem to be missing in their relationship, it typically does not take much for that outside relationship to take on new, more significant meaning.

Crossing the line by engaging in intimate or seriously personal conversations with someone other than your partner (whether through phone, text, video or in person), creates a secret life where intimate details about your personal lives together become exposed to a third party.

This is always done without the consent of the other partner, thereby being an undeniable betrayal of trust and an unmistakable form of cheating.

Is Flirting Cheating?

Flirting is behaving in a somewhat amorous or quasi romantic fashion towards someone without intending to be serious.

In other words, being flirtatious does not necessarily mean that someone is trying to become emotionally attached or even attempting to have sex with another.

Being mildly flirtatious can be charming.

However, one crosses the line of flirting when there is more than just casual contact such as: improper touching, inappropriate conversation (sharing personal details), giving physical cues of a deeper interest (staring into each other’s eyes) and spending too much time together to be considered a simply casual interaction.

Depending on the nature of a couple’s relationship it may be acceptable for either or both partners to be flirtatious with others. A partner may have full confidence in their spouse’s intentions and consider casual flirting behavior to be fun and even erotically exciting.

Some couples find flirting with others inappropriate behavior. They may have a very low tolerance for their mate flirting. Whether it is jealousy, insecurity or simply a sense of propriety that causes this view, the partners are likely to refrain from flirting at all.

Flirting becomes a problem when one partner finds it disrespectful, rude or even crude.

Flirting is used in some relationships as a strategy to cause their partner to feel jealous. Although that motive may seem childish to some, it is nonetheless commonly used when a couple is not in sync or simply behaving immaturely.

Is Looking Or Staring Cheating?

I want to make a distinction between glancing, looking or staring and tracking.

Glancing (looking): Glancing at someone is more of a peek, scan or a quick look.

When a couple is in harmony it typically is acceptable by either partner to glance at an attractive person without the other partner feeling threatened. Both partners may even be glancing or looking at that same person.

Staring (gawking): Staring takes this issue quite a bit further.

When a person is staring at another, they are spending too much time focusing their attention in that direction. Staring can become gawking, where the starer may be completely absorbed in looking intensely at another.

Whether staring or gawking, this type of behavior can be quite off putting.

Conduct like this, especially when with a spouse, date or significant other is clearly rude and inconsiderate. Staring (or gawking) can be an attempt to make eye contact which is a type of flirting.

Tracking: Tracking is literally staring without stopping until the object of the tracker is out of the sight line or no longer moving.

Think of tracking as having one’s eyes glued to the actions of another until that action stops. In a restaurant for example, the tracker may see someone walk in and stays focused on that person as they pass through their field of vision.

The tracker may not continue to stare at that person as in the staring example, but the action of tracking is likely to upset their partner. Tracking someone may also cause the tracked individual to make eye contact and, if that happens, the tracker’s partner may feel even more embarrassed or upset.

This is not necessarily flirting but can be viewed as rude and disrespectful behavior.

Some spouses have been accused of tracking or staring and, in their defense, claim to have just been glancing or looking. I think these descriptions will help to clear up that confusion.

Is Watching Pornography Cheating?

There is no clear answer to this question. It very much depends on the agreement a couple has with each other as well as their individual views on pornography in general.

Some couples watch porn together, some are OK with their spouse watching porn if they continue to connect sexually, and some feel that watching porn is a form of cheating.

If we look at the definition of cheating established at the beginning of this article, we could say that unless there is another human involved, there really is no cheating.

I think a better question to ask may be: Is our sex life satisfying?

If the answer is no, it may not be because your mate is watching pornography (although that could be the case if using porn is taking the place of your sexual/intimate connection).

It is likely, however, to be a more complicated answer having to do with the way your sex life has evolved over time.

There could be many reasons why men would masturbate with or without pornography, rather than have sex with their partners.

In interviews regarding this subject men have offered some of the following reasons:

  • Poor erections or Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
  • Premature Ejaculation (PE)
  • Sex had become routine or boring
  • They are arguing and there is resentment
  • My mate does not seem to care about sex
  • I am out of shape and embarrassed about my body
  • I don’t think we are attracted to each other
  • It always seems such a chore to have sex
  • There never seems to be a right time

Clearly when there are impediments to a couple enjoying a satisfying sex life, conversations about those impediments are sometimes difficult to have.

Pornography may not be the culprit. Calling the mate who watches pornography a cheater may not solve the problem. In fact, it may be missing the problem entirely.

To address this issue, the couple needs to open a dialogue about their sex life. If they can’t do it themselves, they need to talk to a professional who can help.

Other articles of interest:

Are Sexual Expectations Getting In the Way Of A Good Time?

The Four Stages Of A Relationship. What Stage Is Yours In?

The Sexual Addiction Quiz

About the Author

Dr. Stan Hyman is a licensed psychotherapist, sex therapist and marriage counselor in private practice in Miami, Florida. He specializes in treating affair recovery, sexual issues, addictions, anger, anxiety, stress, depression and work-life balance. He also works with couples struggling with powerful issues such as infidelity, careers, and intimacy.