Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How do you know if you’re cheating?

To begin, let’s see how much you know about cheating.
Look at the following list and determine which of the these actions can be considered cheating on a romantic partner:
  • Flirting with someone else
  • Kissing someone else
  • Having sex with someone else
  • Watching pornography
  • Dancing with another person
  • Lying to your partner
  • Buying a gift for someone else
  • Talking to someone else online
  • Hugging someone else
  • Posting a personal ad
  • Chatting with a stranger in an online chat room
The answer? All of the above.
That’s right, all of those actions on the list – and many, many more – can be considered cheating.
Traditionally we’ve defined infidelity as something sexual i.e. having sex with someone else. But that simple definition just doesn’t work for most couples these days. If we define cheating sexually it can start long before people actually have intercourse; for example, kissing another person or other physical acts can all count as cheating.
And we can take the definition a lot further than just the physical aspects of cheating. A lot of cheating can be considered emotional. Loving or having romantic feelings for another person is a form of emotional cheating. But, the definition can include flirting, sharing secrets or even just talking to another person.
Taking these things into account, there’s a chance you may have cheated and not even realized it! But don’t worry, a lot of these actions are based on the context. For example, talking to a friend online may be considered cheating and it may not, it depends what you talk about and what the person means to you.
Like many things in relationships, it's personal. Cheating comes down to a personal view of infidelity and what is acceptable behavior for you and your partner. With the types of cheating it’s clear that some are more explicit (obviously cheating) and some are more ambiguous (difficult to tell if it’s cheating or not).  It then comes down to you to determine if your actions are cheating. But how can you do that?
 A group of psychology researchers discovered that when we’re looking at cheating, people who feel guiltier about ambiguous behaviors (like talking to someone online) or deceptive behaviors (like withholding information from your partner) are more likely to consider the behavior as cheating. So if you feel guilty about a certain interaction you’re having, it could be because you know in the back of your mind that you might be cheating.
Another way to determine if a behavior is cheating is to look at the goal of the behavior. In an examination of internet infidelity, two researchers found that the most serious types of cheating online where those that were goal-oriented – telling someone you love them or making plans to meet up in person, for example. Informal acts, like chatting to a friend about sports or joking around, were less serious. This model can be taken into activities offline too – so ask yourself “what’s my goal here?” and think about whether or not that goal tends you toward cheating.
Finally, a great way to know if something is considered cheating is to talk to your partner.  Figure out what physical commitment means to you both and what emotional cheating might look like. I suggest broaching the topic gently … when I turned to my husband randomly one night and said “hey, I was thinking we should talk about cheating” he, justifiably, looked a little shocked until I explained myself!
So think for yourself and talk to you partner about what you consider cheating to be. Come up with a guideline for yourself and try to avoid any action that might be cheating. After all, cheating is one of the biggest relationship problems and one of the prime reasons for divorce in the US, so if you want to maintain your relationship, figure out how you can stop yourself from cheating!

Research for this blog comes from:
Docan-Morgan, T & Docan, C. A. (2007). Internet infidelity: Double standards and the differing views of women and men. Communication Quarterly, 55, 317-342.
Wilson, K., Mattingly, B. A., Clark, E. M., Weidler, D. J., & Bequette, A. W. (2011). The gray area: Exploring attitudes toward infidelity and the development of the perceptions of dating infidelity scale. The Journal of Social Psychology, 151, 63-86.