What Defines Infidelity?

What really defines Infidelity? What exactly is an affair? Is it an affair when your partner is “sexting?” What about having an emotional connection with someone but there is no sex involved (coitus)? How about watching porn, is that infidelity? The definition of infidelity is subjective. Typically, it is what two people who are in a primary relationship say it is. Both partners within that relationship determine what infidelity means to them, and it may differ across different relationships. Also, since infidelity depends on individual perceptions, partners may not initially see eye-to-eye.

Related: When Is It Time To Break Up?

Man and Woman discussing intently

Is Infidelity Betrayal?

Oftentimes, the Affair Partner (the cheater) minimizes the behavior and doesn’t think it is an affair because there was no actual sexual intercourse. There are many justifications the Affair Partner may try to give to manipulate the situation. Nonetheless, the Hurt Partner (the one cheated on) begs to differ, as they understandably feel the hurt of betrayal. So, is infidelity betrayal? And if so, on what level? 

There is no omnipotent being that defines infidelity. As a Marriage Counselor, I label it as a transgression from what the explicit or implicit agreement was between two partners about monogamy. During some marriage ceremonies promising to be faithful to each other for the rest of their lives is supposedly understood. In some, it is even directly stated and mutually agreed. But sometimes, individuals either miss that promise or rationalize their way out of it and cheat anyways. Cheating, again, is what the couple defines as “cheating.” If both partners agree that kissing other people doesn’t betray their relationship, then kissing isn’t considered cheating, even though it is in other relationships. Monogamy can no longer be assumed, but rather, must be discussed and agreed upon by both partners. Sexual and physical actions are commonly seen as betrayal, but sometimes, partners don’t agree on what qualifies as cheating in their relationship. If there is disagreement, thorough discussion, and potentially compromise, is needed. 

Woman sleeping next to Man texting

Why is Discussing Infidelity So Important?

Without discussing what defines infidelity within the relationship, there remains space for misunderstanding or beliefs to misalign. Even when it is discussed, defined, and agreed on by both partners, misunderstanding can still occur. People usually focus on discussing physical intimacy but forget to discuss emotional intimacy. Whether it is texting another person or connecting with someone over the internet, sexual or intimate conversations are often considered as emotional infidelity. This form of infidelity can be just as destructive to a relationship because it can create doubt and mistrust. There are many different boundaries, which may vary significantly from a past relationship or others’ relationships. Therefore, explicitly discussing what defines infidelity is important for establishing mutual understanding and trust regarding those boundaries

Related: What’s A Healthy Relationship Anyway

It may help to talk about infidelity by telling your partner you read an article that discusses its subjectivity. This opens the conversation up to share each person’s perceptions of cheating. Also, counterintuitively, it is helpful to discuss issues or potential issues while things are good in the relationship. Again, misunderstanding can be avoided by communicating openly.

What Leads to Infidelity?

Men and women have affairs for many different reasons. The major attraction in an affair is not the Love Partner (the other person in the affair) but the positive mirroring of the self – “the way I look and feel when I see myself in the other person’s eyes.” After being married for years, the woman disappears behind the mother; the man disappears behind the provider; the sexual person disappear behind the responsible person. Therein lies the longing for emotional connection. When a person isn’t getting the emotional needs from their partner, they seek connection outside of the relationship. Clients I work with say they have affairs because they want to feel a sense of “aliveness.” They want to relive their vibrant past selves. They want to reclaim something they had lost or forgotten. People almost always have affairs because it makes them feel something other than what they have been feeling for some time in long-term relationships.

Related: Is The Man You Married The Partner You Want?

Is it Possible to Recover from Infidelity?

In Affair Recovery the single best indicator of whether the relationship can survive infidelity is how much empathy the Affair Partner shows for the pain they have caused to the Hurt Partner. The Hurt Partner must be willing to find ways to appropriately manage overwhelming emotions about their partner’s affair so the couple can move forward to sort out why the affair happened, and more importantly, what needs to change so that it never happens again. Having insight about their narrative and being able to articulate it to one another makes for good prognosis.

Divorce doesn’t have to be the outcome of infidelity. On the contrary, infidelity could be the catalyst in developing a renewed relationship that’s a better fit for both partners in a world where change is constant. It’s naive to think we can get all our needs met by one person. So, I say become a more dynamic person to be able to accommodate the changes needed for moving forward. Some people appreciate the reframe of infidelity, in that, you can rethink infidelity as a means of waking up your relationship. Take the bad and turn it into something that could be the best thing that ever happened to you and for your relationship.

A lot of couples do make it past an affair by learning and understanding and setting the relationship in a new direction. It takes work from both partners but recovering from an affair is not out of reach. 

Have you or your partner had an affair and want to fix your relationship? Contact Sarah for more information on Affair Recovery. 

Couples therapist

Sarah Ruggera, Marriage and Family Therapist
Helping People Who Ask The Question….
“Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”
858.735.1139

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