In college, cheating on an exam will likely lead a student to suspension or possible expulsion. In romantic relationships, however, cheating will lead to similar forms of termination, except that instead of being barred from classes, the adulterous will be restricted from continuing the courtship with their girlfriend or boyfriend. What happens when the definition of what constitutes cheating differs between two people? Is a behavior only considered infidelity when one partner has sexual intercourse outside of a relationship or could cheating be emotional, too?
Let’s (Not) Get Physical
Nate Harper, a freshman at the University of Delaware said he feels that attraction to people outside of the relationship is inevitable and should not be considered a betrayal; “I’d definitely say cheating would be more of a physical thing rather than an emotional thing. It’s human nature for people to be attracted to others even when they are in a relationship,” he said. “As long as they don’t act on those desires…I don’t qualify it as cheating.”
Allison Shike, a freshman at York College, agreed; “I feel that everyone…is going to have a little crush on someone else at some point. You just need to decide if that crush means more to you than what you have…I believe to cheat that there has to be physical contact.”
Caught Up in Emotion
While some students may agree that cheating is purely physical, a recent study in the journal, Evolutionary Psychology, showed that gender may play an integral role in an individual’s view on cheating. According to the study, “across the board, men felt guiltier about sexual cheating, while women felt guiltier about emotional infidelity.” So what is emotional cheating?
“Cheating to me is basically hiding your feelings for another person from the person you are currently in a relationship with,” said Samantha Paulshock, a freshman at West Virginia University. Having feelings for someone else during your relationship may be difficult for your partner to pinpoint, but if it’s going on, it may also be a sign that a relationship is in need of evaluation.
The Many Facets of Cheating
“I think that cheating is anything that would hurt the other person,” said Hanna Milcarek, a freshman at Broward College. “Whether it’s physical or emotional, it is hurting the other person.” In a relationship, each partner can no longer solely consider his or her own feelings; everything is now reciprocal, and affects more than just one person.
Barbara J Peters is a licensed relationship counselor and author of He Said, She Said, I Said, 7 Keys to Relationship Success. According to Peters, many different behaviors can be construed as cheating, but whether or not these actions will hurt a relationship all depends on the couple and the boundaries they’ve set up: “When two people enter into a relationship, trust is implied or inferred…When outside influences or personal behaviors affect that relationship and cause one partner to feel threatened, uncomfortable, or that they are ‘losing ground’ with the other, it may be construed as cheating.”
Any action that compromises trust in a relationship should be questioned. “Such behaviors can range from using porn for titillation to playing video games, and just about everything in between…With the advent of social media, the chances for ‘extracurricular’ involvement has increased tremendously. If one part of a couple feels they cannot share their online experiences or conversations with their partner, they may be developing or claiming a persona which is not genuine,” Peters added.
Talk the Talk
So how can someone prevent being cheated on or unintentionally leave their partner feeling cheated? Clarifying expectations is essential. Whether one partner thinks cheating is only restricted to having sex with someone else, if the other partner thinks that cheating is flirting or texting with another person, problems can arise. “As always, communication is key,” advised Peters. “A couple should be able to discuss individual definitions of cheating and come to an understanding of how each definition fits into their relationship.”