What actually qualifies as cheating? Relationship therapists weigh in
Cheating by a person in a relationship can have very real consequences for all parties involved. Here are five ways your partner could be cheating on you without having sex.
Whether you've been married for years, are newlyweds, never want to get married, or just started dating, one thing that weighs heavily on many couples (and singles) is the fear of infidelity. Who does it? Why do they do it? When does it happen? How do people get caught? How do they get away with it? And what is it about infidelity that has us all a bit obsessed?
When it comes to the concept of cheating on your romantic partner, the lines can be a bit blurred, says Dr Upasana Ghosh, a certified relationship expert from Kolkata. It's tough to say what really qualifies as cheating. “Sex is not the primary way or reason people cheat. The primary reason is that there's a deficiency in their life and specifically, in their ego. They feel incomplete," she says.
"Cheating can take on many forms, both physical and emotional, and certain flirty actions might be seen differently depending on the person you're in a relationship with," she explains. Your best bet is to first define what cheating means; talk with your partner and set the rules on boundaries, suggests Dr Ghosh. "If your partner doesn't truly know where you stand, it's hard to say whether or not he or she was in the wrong. Yet, once that conversation is finished, you should both be on the same page," she says.
Here are five scenarios where cheating can occur, so discuss what cheating means to the two of you before things get too heated:
Keeping a dating profile
Having a dating profile could be considered cheating because there really is no reason to have a dating profile unless you are looking to date. "However, it's possible that the profile is old, and still showing up and not in use (some dating apps seem to keep long inactive profiles active)," says Dr Shilpa Aggarwal, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist and relationship expert. Also, some dating apps have a friendship only or business networking components, so the apps could be used for other purposes. Basically, don't get too freaked out, too early. "Tell your partner if you'd like him or her to delete the apps if it bothers you," suggests Dr Aggarwal.
Following an ex on social media
"This is such a frequent occurrence that many people, who do not have the intent to cheat on a partner, could be seen as cheaters," says Dr Aggarwal. "This could be termed as inappropriate boundary crossing and a potential step towards cheating, as it sets the stage for something to happen, even if clear intent is not there at the beginning," says Dr Aggarwal. It's a red flag, but not cheating, she adds. Perhaps your partner just didn't care enough to delete social contacts. If it's bothersome, discuss it openly, says Dr Aggarwal.
Having an emotional connection elsewhere
"Having an emotional connection can be cheating if that connection replaces the connection you should have with your partner, and/or the motivation is at least partially romantic. However, in other instances, a strong emotional connection could just be friendship," says Dr Aggarwal. It's not necessarily healthy to have an emotional connection only with your partner, so forming an emotional connection with someone else may not be cheating, says Dr Aggarwal. Keep those boundaries, and check with your partner to see how he or she feels about it, she suggests.
Sending flirty texts
"For those who consider it cheating, there are really no good reasons to be sending flirty texts to someone other than your partner," says Dr Ghosh. The excuse 'I'm just a flirt' really doesn't make sense, because flirting is by its very nature romantic, she adds. "However, some people are just fun, which could be interpreted as flirtatious, when in reality, the person doing the flirting doesn't even have a romantic motivation," says Dr Ghosh. If this happens often, chat with your partner to understand his or her intentions, and maybe have them speak to the recipient and explain that it's solely a friendship, Dr Ghosh suggests. Our advice: Put the phone away and focus your flirty energy on your partner, instead.
Going to dinner with someone you're attracted to
"If this is a once or twice thing, then there is an attraction, but no flirtatious suggestions or behaviour. It is wading into potentially dangerous waters, but not cheating yet. If it is concealed from one's partner, however, then it suggests a desire to cheat," says Dr Ghosh. Moreover, if there is mutual attraction and sexual tension, then there’s more bad news. "In this case, a few extra drinks and one partner suggesting something could easily turn an 'innocent' dinner meeting into something that is clearly cheating," says Dr Ghosh.