“I would like your opinion on what you consider cheating. Other than an affair, such as inappropriate texting with someone other than your spouse, strip clubs, pornography, etc.”
First I want to just put out there that I think cheating (in all its forms) can be absolutely devastating and life altering, but also is pretty common and in most cases is a symptom not a cause of relationship and/or personal problems. But surprise, we ALL have relationship and/or personal problems. So while I get and appreciate the need to define things (I am Type A till I die, y’all) I find it almost impossible to do so in any sort of universal way. I don’t believe any relationship is immune to cheating, I don’t believe cheating is always the nail in the coffin of relationships, and I think wanting to define “cheating” in black and white terms is a lot harder than it looks.
When I hear a question like this, I feel like the underlying question is “when am I justified in being angry?” Obviously there isn’t a universal answer, a line in the sand that everyone is going to agree on. I’ve had this conversation many times with friends: “my husband/boyfriend did ______. Am I overreacting by being mad?” My answer is almost always the same – if it bugs you, it doesn’t really matter if you are “overreacting” by my or anyone else’s standards. If it is something that bugs you, and your partner loves and respects you, I think they should take your concerns seriously.
I still remember vividly something that happened when my now husband and I were dating, early on in our relationship. It certainly wasn’t cheating or anything even close, but I felt disrespected by something that had happened. I remember being so angry, yet so conflicted about telling him why, because he didn’t do something objectively “wrong”. But it still made me feel like crap. So I decided instead of giving him the silent treatment, or pretending like nothing was wrong, or blowing up at him for something unrelated, I would just tell him the 100% truth. So I told him I was upset and why, and that what had happened had made me feel embarrassed and disrespected. I said that I knew he didn’t technically do anything wrong, but this was how I felt. I will never forget his response. He paused for a little while to think and then said he totally got it and he would feel the same way if the situation was reversed. He said he would remember and not ever do that again – and he hasn’t. I felt so validated and heard and relieved that he didn’t try and make me feel crazy or like I was overreacting. It was such an important point in our relationship since I knew he valued how I felt and wouldn’t minimize or mock my feelings when I came to him with them.
So for example, maybe your partner has zero problem with porn and maybe they have a huge problem with porn. For me, my partner watching porn wouldn’t come even close to the realm of cheating. But it doesn’t matter what I think – maybe your partner has a serious moral issue with porn and feels it is dangerous to your relationship. In that case, I think there better be a really honest and respectful talk about those things. It doesn’t even matter if 9 out of 10 people don’t consider a certain thing “cheating” if it’s something that really bugs you. That’s not to say that your partner must immediately stop doing the thing in question or else they are a terrible person, but I do think in a healthy relationship he or she should be willing to have a conversation about it. If you and your partner don’t see eye to eye on what you consider “cheating”, there is going to have to be some compromise or a decision to forgo whatever activity is upsetting the partner in favor of saving the relationship. Or maybe the thing in question is more important than the relationship – in which case, you probably have your answer about the importance of your relationship.
The “inappropriate texting” is tricky. Too many factors go into that decision – the people involved, the reason for texting, the relationship between them, past situations, current situation, nature of the texts. The definition of inappropriate here is also going to vary from person to person. I believe a safe rule of thumb is “would I be 100% ok with my partner reading this text/conversation/message?” If the answer is no, you are probably tiptoeing pretty close to a sketchy situation. I also believe in general it’s probably not a good idea to see just how close you can get to the line of what “counts” as cheating. If it feels disrespectful, it’s probably not a good idea if you value your relationship.
This all can get tricky depending on the relationship with your partner as well. I am coming from the place of assuming the relationship is basically respectful and healthy. There are definitely situations in which a controlling partner might find all outside relationships/conversations with the opposite sex as inappropriate. I know different religious backgrounds might have strong feelings on what is and is not appropriate. Abusive relationships often involve some level of control and restriction as to who is “allowed” to be seen. In this case, it’s hard to advise someone to just respect their partner’s feelings if the feelings are causing him or her to be physically, mentally, or emotionally abusive. General rule of thumb: if your partner tells you you are “crazy” for being upset at something and refuses to discuss it further, there might be some red flags to that relationship. Likewise if your partner forbids you from doing something that seems completely innocent/normal, that also may be a red flag.
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