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.


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  2. Tabbi,

    I really liked how you brought your blog around on not just if our partners are cheating but if WE might be cheating. Even though, I have thought this for a while, you really bring to light the fact that cheating is subjective. I was also wondering if some people in their relationships don’t count a lot of things “cheating” until something that would be considered obvious cheating occurs. An example of this would be when a man cheats on a woman (or a woman cheats on a man) and then things start clicking for the non-cheater that he/she was “ambiguously cheating” all along. Like texting, going to the gym A LOT, and being online. Usually these things wouldn’t be considered, but after an act of obvious cheating occurs I wonder if they are considered as cheating.

    I like that you mention the GOAL of these behaviors. I wrote this on Charlotte’s blog already, but I can’t help but think about my mom in these situations. I wonder if her ex already knew he was cheating by doing more ambiguous types of cheating, or if he had no intention of cheating but didn’t question the goals of his actions. They are trying to rekindle their relationship now, (much to my dissatisfaction) and they are creating guidelines of what is considered cheating. The thing about these guidelines is that they may be very hard to put into place after somebody has been explicitly and obviously cheated on. To me, my mom’s ex is always going to be a cheater, and even though my mom doesn’t want to admit that, I think she thinks that too. So their guidelines are going to look something like this: everything you did before is now not okay. Maybe not that bad, but you kind of get the idea. Do these guidelines work for past cheaters, or are they meant to stop cheating before it happens?

    Good job Tabbi!

    1. Amanda, thanks for your comment and sorry for everything you’re going through with your Mom. Like I said in the blog, cheating is one of the top problems in relationships and top reasons for break ups so it figures that it affected you and many others in the class too. I think you bring up an interesting point thinking about the ambiguous cheating and if it does become more obvious in retrospect after an explicit type of cheating has occurred. The research didn’t specifically address that. However, I’d be inclined to agree with your assumption that it would, given the parameters for each type of cheating. That makes me wonder then if some ambiguous cheating goes completely unnoticed. For example, if the cheating remains in the ambiguous stage and never progresses to anything more serious, there’s a chance it might never be considered cheating or labeled as such.
      I think you also bring up an interesting aspect of infidelity (which I think is probably more psychological than social) talking about your former step dad and how he cheated in the past. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “once a cheater, always a cheater” and I wonder the extent to which that statement is accurate. For your mom’s sake we can hope that the cliché isn’t true …

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  4. Hi Tabbi!
    I loved your topic this semester. It’s obviously something that’s very interesting to me since the only explanation I got out of my ex was “I dunno…I was stupid…” well I’ll concur, but I still wonder what he was thinking. The more I’ve listened to your research the more I’ve come to believe that he simply wasn’t!
    I really like this blog though—it’s made me do some reflecting of my own behavior. I have my fair share of male friends—most were friends years before I even met my husband. I never thought that talking to them online could be considered a form of cheating. Usually the conversations are pretty superficial, but there were times that we would get into deeper conversations about my marriage, their relationships, etc. Those are conversations that probably should have been had with my ex. Not saying that would have saved the relationship, but it’s interesting to look back with a new perspective!
    I’m curious about the gift-giving though. What kind of gift is this talking about? I guess like you pointed out you have to look at yourself and really decipher your motives and goals for giving the gift in the first place. Great blog!

    1. Charlotte, thanks for your comment. As I said to Amanda, it’s interesting (and not surprising) to see how many people’s lives infidelity has touched in a negative way. Anecdotally supports the claims I made about infidelity being one of the top problems in relationships and top reasons for break ups.
      I think when you say you’re ex-husband wasn’t thinking when he cheated is probably spot on! Throughout all this research I’ve seen so many of the negative effects cheating has and it just makes me continue to question why on earth someone would do it. I came to a conclusion on the motivations (as you heard me present last week) but it still just seems like, to give in to those motivations, people must really not be considering the consequences of their actions!
      Looking at this research definitely shows how a little bit of thought and self-evaluation can go a long way when it comes to avoiding potential infidelity. Like you, it’s made me consider my male friend and how talking to them online could be considered emotional infidelity … it’s a tough line to walk and one that I haven’t figured out yet. But just thinking about it is a great start :)

  5. Tabbi,

    Your topic oozes interestingness. All of your posts were fun to read. Much of what you talked about this semester had to do with why people cheat, and what the definition of cheating is. I wonder, what are the effects of how people respond to cheating? Are there multiple levels of cheating being "ok?" For example, if you think in your mind (or you have established ground rules with your partner) that if someone does X, that is a deal breaker, then someone does X, and you don't end the relationship or you take them back later, what does that mean? Does it mean that it isn't ok with you in your mind/emotional world but that in reality you put up with it so it is ok on some level? Kind of like sanctioning the behavior? Thanks for another great semester of discussion! :)

  6. You have definitely provided a lot of "food for thought" this semester with your research question. :) As usual, your blog is well-written and interesting to read. My only suggestion is to amp up the intro a bit. Your title pulls us in, then you go right into your list. It doesn't seem to flow well. If the list was reworked into questions or scenarios, that might pull the reader in more seamlessly. Other than that, it was great!

  7. Things I'm going to remember from this blog. "Context matters"- yes! "If you feel guilty, that's a sign" (about your motivation, goal, etc)- yes! Enlightening.

  8. Great Job Tabbi as usual another great piece of writing!

    Before I read your blog I always get a little scared because your definition for cheating encompasses more and more stuff each time!-but scared in a good way!

    Too many things I agree with to mention, so the two or three I do not agree with: bying gifts, dancing and hugging! Even when I switch roles and imagine my own spouse hugging, bying gifts or dancing for other people I just cannot think that she is cheating by doing those things. The other things on the list in most contexts would be concerning but these three I find innocent.

    Otherwise there were very many good take-aways like looking at the goal of the activity. Through that lens even the most innocent activity can be cheating if the goal is to seduce the other person!

    Awesome blog all semester long! Great job!