Asking for a Friend: What Is Considered Cheating in a Relationship?
Whether it's deciding when to end a relationship, spotting signs of codependency in a relationship, or determining why people cheat, we often turn to the experts when we're dealing with matters of the heart—because it's hard to see clearly when you're in love with someone.
So we asked a Kelly Campbell, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and human development at California State University, San Bernardino, to weigh in on one of romance's most controversial questions: What is considered cheating in a relationship? First and foremost, she advises, "Partners have to define this for themselves. Each person may have a different take on what constitutes 'cheating,' so [you] should be clear with each other about [your] definitions [for clarity on] when a relationship rule or norm has been violated."
Ahead a relationship expert talks us through two scenarios—what to do if you're tempted to cheat on your partner or what to do if you suspect your partner is cheating on you.
You're considering cheating…
The first thing you should do is "talk to your partner about your sources of dissatisfaction," advises Campbell. "One of the most taboo topics for couples to discuss is the relationship itself, but it's necessary if you want to maintain a healthy, satisfying union."
"Some people cheat because their needs are going unmet in the relationship, and it's up to that person to communicate their needs," explains Campbell. "If [you remain] dissatisfied despite repeated attempts to repair the relationship, then break up with [your partner] before cheating on them."
The best way to avoid cheating? "Knowing yourself and what your needs are and clearly communicating those to your partner should minimise the likelihood of infidelity," says Campbell.
You suspect your partner is cheating…
"Try to approach the discussion in an open-ended, non-accusatory way," suggests Campbell. "Use 'I' statements and say how you feel. For example, 'I've been worried lately because I feel like you are pulling away from our relationship. Has anything been on your mind?'"
If you want to know the truth, your partner is "going to be more likely to admit to [cheating] if you [make it known that that's] something you are willing to hear," says Campbell. You could ask, "for example, 'have you thought about being intimate with another person or have you already done so? I am willing to hear the truth because I think it's important.'"
To address relationship anxiety around fear of being cheated on, you can "see a therapist to sort out if [your] concerns are legitimate or rooted in [your] own insecurities," offers Campbell. "If it's just [jealousy], you can work on yourself, work on boosting your confidence and recognising your value as a relationship partner."
The Red Flags
To better understand how to spot infidelity, we asked Campbell to talk us through some of the common signs that indicate a partner might be cheating.
Changes in behavior.
"For example, they suddenly want to try new things in the bedroom; or they didn't used to be protective over their phone and now they are; or they didn't used to care so much about their appearance (getting in shape, how they dress, wearing perfume/cologne) and now they do; or they didn't used to stay late at work and now they do," explains Campbell.
They've become more distant.
"If you notice them becoming more distant, not disclosing as much, not taking as much interest in you, it could be a sign," she says.
They accuse you of cheating.
"If they get suspicious of you and wonder if you're cheating, this is also a sign (they are projecting their own thoughts and behaviors onto you)," adds Campbell. "Or maybe they shower as soon as they get home—also a sign!"