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What Is Considered Cheating? The Painful Types & Ways to Set Boundaries

What do you consider cheating? Is it just sex, or is it something more? Here is everything you need to know about what counts as cheating.

what is considered cheating - types of cheating

Without a doubt, one of the biggest relationship killers is cheating. But have you ever thought, “what exactly is considered cheating?”

You might think you know because you have been cheated on *or you were the cheater*. 

There are two main routes that people go down if they’ve been cheated on; they either forgive their partner and work on the relationship, or they part ways.  

It’s a personal choice, but it also comes down to what you consider to be cheating.

Everyone is different. Nobody can tell you what you should or shouldn’t do after you find out that your partner has cheated on you. The only thing you can do is give yourself time to work out how you feel. 

If they’re sorry and willing to work on themselves enough to make the relationship stronger in the future, perhaps there is hope. 

However, if you feel deep down that you can’t trust them, and they’re likely to do it again, it’s a far better option to part ways and work towards your own happiness. [Read: How to take control of your love life and find the love you want… and deserve!]

It’s a personal choice, but it also comes down to what you consider to be cheating.

What is considered cheating in love?

The definition of cheating in a relationship changes with the times. Nowadays, most relationships end when either one of the individuals involved does the unthinkable – cheat.

But during the 1950s and 1960s, cheating was seen as a pastime. Both genders could openly do more things *and people*, but today is different.

Since then, we’ve become more accountable for other people’s feelings, and that means we now socially shun cheaters.

However, with the techno-advanced twenty-first century, all forms of communication are a blessing to us. We text, email, connect on social media and interact much more. [Read: Having an affair with a married man]

Socially, we are freer in more ways than ever before, but in trying to be a free spirit, like a character out of a Paulo Coelho book, we cause ourselves harm too. The more we interact, the more problems we get into and the more temptations we come across.

So, what is cheating?

When one talks about cheating in a relationship, some may think of a lover banging someone else. But as we said, times have changed. 

Flirting, kissing, cyber-sex, text-sex, snap-sex, onlyfans-sex, and even looking at the opposite sex is considering cheating! [Read: The unwritten work spouse rules to keep things fun and uncomplicated]

Seriously though, people have different opinions about what they consider to be cheating. So, it’s up to you and your partner to decide what the “ground rules” are for the relationship.

What constitutes an act of infidelity varies between and within cultures and also depends on the type of relationship that people have. 

Even within an open relationship, infidelity may arise if a partner in the relationship acts outside of the understood boundaries of the relationship. [Read: How to survive infidelity without tearing the relationship apart]

Many people agree that there are six basic qualities of healthy, loving relationships. Respect, trust, honesty, fairness, equality, and good communication. 

Everyone is different when it comes to dating rules, so people should sit down with their partners and agree on what counts as cheating in their relationships.

Discussing these details, however uncomfortable they may seem, is actually the best way to create boundaries in love and avoid cheating in a relationship. [Read: How to deal with jealousy in a relationship and learn to overcome it]

Relationships and cheating are two complex topics that inevitably unite at some point in our lives. The temptation of cheating enters every single relationship in the form of an invitation or a doubt, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. 

Cheating is more than just physical

It’s important to realize that there are several types of cheating in a relationship, and not all of them are physical. 

We tend to think that a partner has had sex with someone else when we hear the word ‘cheating,’ but what cheating is to one person may actually be totally fine with someone else. [Read: Dating facts]

For instance, do you think that kissing someone else is cheating?

Some people say no, and some say yes. 

As you can see, you have to figure out what you deem cheating to be and where your boundaries are. [Read: Emotional cheating vs. friendship – the point when you cross a line]

You should also realize that if cheating does happen to you, your boundaries and the way you think about it all may shift. That’s fine, too; go with what feels right at the time.

To help you figure out where you stand on cheating and the different definitions, let’s check out the four main types of cheating in a relationship in a bit more detail.

Emotional vs. physical cheating

There are so many different types of behavior that may or may not fall into the cheating category. It’s so confusing to work out how you feel about it when it happens to you.  [Read: The biggest signs of an emotional affair you probably never noticed in your own life]

The thing is, you can never be sure how you’re going to feel. It’s all very well and good having an idea that if your partner did this or that, you’d leave them. But if it actually happens, you might find yourself feeling differently.

Each situation’s circumstances vary wildly. Are they sorry or showing zero remorse? Do you trust them never to do it again? Are they willing to give you the time you need to overcome it all?

It’s such a complicated subject that you can never have a true idea of how you would react. [Read: How to forgive a betrayer – the questions you need to ask them]

For many people, it comes down to two categories: emotional cheating and physical cheating.

Outside of that, you also have sexting. This isn’t in either category. You’re not actually touching physically, and you may not have an emotional connection with the person. 

But you cross a line by speaking in a particular way to someone who isn’t your partner. You betray the private and special bond you have. If your partner found out, they would probably be devastated. [Read: Is sexting cheating? The answer you really won’t want to accept]

What do you consider to be cheating? Think about it for a second. 

Would it be worse for you if your partner developed a close emotional connection to someone but never slept with them, or if they actually had sex with someone else, even just once? 

Both are heartbreaking situations. Many people feel that when emotions enter the situation, it’s even harder to forgive and move on. [Read: What is emotional cheating and 15 signs to recognize an emotional affair ASAP]

Perhaps that’s because it comes down to your partner not only breaking your trust but compromising it over the long term. Let’s be honest, it’s entirely possible for someone to have too much to drink and end up making a huge mistake. 

They sleep with someone and wake up instantly regretting it. They didn’t do it because they have any feelings; it could literally just be sex. 

Or a partner is feeling neglected, pushed out, and is going through a hard time. It’s no excuse to cheat physically. Nevertheless, it happens countless times to different couples. [Read: How to get over emotional cheating with a broken heart]

In all of these situations, your partner has no deep feelings, they just made a spur-of-the-moment decision that could cost them their relationship.

However, when your partner actually has feelings for someone else, that means your partner knowingly formed a bond with that person, and that takes time. 

Do you believe it is possible to fall in love with someone else when you’re already in love with your partner? That’s what it comes down to. Do they really love you if they can love someone else too?

Both situations are a severe breach of trust and a huge betrayal. But what is considered cheating depends on the person, so your partner may not even feel guilty. [Read: 18 signs of an emotional affair you probably didn’t notice]

Even if it doesn’t fall into a specific category, the fact that your or your partner’s behavior is ‘on the fence’ is worrisome; if it doesn’t end now, someone is going to be heartbroken.

The main types of cheating in a relationship 

You might decide there are several other types of cheating in a relationship besides the four we’re going to describe. This is because, as we’ve already said, everyone has different boundaries and decides what cheating is versus what isn’t.

However, for the purposes of generalization, let’s check out the four main types most people agree with. [Read: Why do men cheat? 3 main reasons and 27 excuses men use]

1. Physical/sexual cheating

This is by far the most common type and can cause a huge amount of hurt. It’s one of the biggest betrayals possible, but how you deal with it depends on how you see the event. 

Was it one time? Or was it more than once? Was it with one person or more than one person over a series of events?

This type of cheating can take a long time to repair if the two parties decide to stay together. Building up the trust again and probably even getting physical together will take time. [Confession: I cheated on my boyfriend and feel a lot better now]

Only you can decide whether the time is worth it.

2. Emotional forms of cheating

For a lot of people, this is worse. What do you think? Emotional cheating is when someone forms an emotional attachment with another person behind your back. It may include sex, but not always.

If a partner cheats in this emotional way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t love you anymore, but you do have to question why they formed an intense emotional connection to another person if that is the case. [Read: 18 emotional affair signs that seem harmless at first]

3. Online cheating

This is one of the hardest types of cheating to catch because anyone can be a totally different person online. 

This type of cheating means talking and flirting, perhaps even having video or phone sex, with another person on a dating site or social media site.

The person may have no intention of actually having actual sex with this person, i.e. in a physical way, but they’re still breaking the trust. [Read: 18 really smart ways to catch a cheater in the act]

Of all the types of cheating in a relationship to catch, this is the hardest. 

But if you do find that your partner has been indulging in this type of activity, perhaps monitoring their internet usage for some time to come afterward is the only way to rebuild the trust.

4. Sexting

The final form of cheating is very similar to online cheating, but in this case, it usually means that your partner knows the other person they’re talking to. [Read: Frexting – why sexting friends is the naughty new trend]

Sexting is basically sending sexually charged text messages or social media messages to another person.

There may or may not be actual physical contact. And there may or may not be an emotional connection. 

But the crux of the matter is whether the sexts are a precursor to the person intending to meet up and cheat physically or not. [Read: Is sexting cheating? How to know when you’ve crossed the line]

Flirting, relationships, and cheating

Is it wrong to flirt with someone else when you’re in a relationship? Of course, everyone *knows* that flirting with someone else is cheating.

Acknowledging this as the truth only makes you a liar and a cheat because all of us flirt, whether in front of our partners or behind their backs.

The French author Leon Paul Blouet once wrote that flirtation was ‘attention without intention.’ [Read: When does flirting become cheating? The guide to know for sure]

Whether you agree or not, we all flirt in our own way. The only difference is that men do it obviously, and women are more subtle.

You’re only cheating if you actually follow up on your sexual innuendos.

Flirting can destroy trust, but whether you agree or not, everyone is a flirt. [Read: How to flirt by touching]

Everyone flirts in most scenarios, for example, to persuade a cab driver to take you somewhere out of their reach, to win over business deals, to persuade someone to employ you, to get a nickel off your overcharged fare, and whatnot!

The problem with flirting is that an individual does not always know when they are doing it. You could be talking to someone for one minute. And the next thing you know, you’re touching each other like a petting zoo.

But let’s be realistic here. If there is a slight intention in the flirtation, then that is a different story. But unless they’re flirting with the intention of having sex, don’t take it too seriously. [Read: Friendly vs. flirty – 34 subtle flirting signs to tell if someone is flirting with you]

Flirting is fun and an essential and universal part of human interaction. Our achievements in everything we do are merely side-effects of the essential ability to charm and impress others with our own abilities. 

An exchange of admiring glances or a bit of light-hearted flirtatious banter can brighten the day, raise self-esteem, and strengthen social bonds. [Read: Boyfriend extra-friendly and flirting with other girls? 19 signs and must-dos]

So, before you throw a tantrum and ask your partner to stop flirting with others, ask yourself about your own flirting abilities and look beyond this age-old dilemma of cheating.

Flirting and text messages

Relationships and cheating have come really close ever since text messages came into our lives. Normally, this starts as cheap fun in an office atmosphere. But again, if your partner isn’t acting upon it, why let it bother you?

Haven’t you ever texted a friend back and forth and found yourself flirting? Have you ever commented on a friend’s social media post or sent a DM, which then turned into flirting, all without intention? [Read: Is he into me, or is he just being nice? 85 signs to read his flirty interest]

But you know you weren’t cheating on your lover, right? So, what is cheating, then? Is it cheating if your partner does the same thing?

Everybody knows that, in most cases, a text is just a text and nothing else. When you start reading between the lines, you’d not only confuse yourself more, but you’d probably damage a relationship over nothing.

This is where trust comes into play. If you’ve found your partner texting fascinating messages to someone else, then don’t assume it’s cheating. In fact, you should ask what it is they were doing and clear it up. [Read: 46 must-dos to regain and rebuild trust after cheating or lying in a relationship]

The worst-case scenario could be assuming something without knowing all the information. What you might assume to be cheating might easily be harmless fun.

The course of true love never does run smoothly. And remember, actions speak louder than texted words. If it bothers you, and you think that’s cheating, talk to your partner about it. 

What do you consider cheating?

Really, it comes down to the definition of cheating to you. Problematically, everyone has a different definition, and it can vary within relationships. [Read: 20 signs you can’t trust the guy you’re dating and he’s up to no good]

Perhaps you consider flirting to be cheating, but to your partner, it’s only cheating if there’s actual physical contact. You can understand how issues can arise if you don’t agree with what you both consider cheating behavior to be.

In many ways, it comes down to asking yourself one key question. If your partner was doing the same thing behind your back, would you feel upset or betrayed? If the answer is ‘yes,’ that’s a pretty hard line that denotes cheating behavior.

How common is cheating in a relationship? 

In the U.S. alone, one in three marriages ends in divorce, with infidelity issues being the nail in the coffin for a lot of them. [Read: The four most common – yet painful – types of cheating in a relationship]

In a recent national survey, twenty-two percent of married men have strayed at least once during their married lives, while fourteen percent of married women have had affairs at least once during their married lives. 

And that’s the number of people that confessed to their deed! Can you even begin to think of the number of secret affairs going on right this minute? 

Cheating is hurtful regardless of the type

Perhaps ‘hurtful’ isn’t a strong enough word, and maybe ‘damaging’ is better. [Read: How to get over being cheated on quickly without breaking apart]

Regardless of the right adjective to use, cheating has the power to tear a relationship apart completely. It also has the potential to tear apart the person who was cheated on completely.

Trust is one of the most important facets of any relationship, and once cheating comes to the fore, that trust might well never come back. 

There are even some other types of cheating that most people don’t even think of. Here are some of them. [Read: 15 glaring signs you’re being cheated on to help you know for sure]

1. Financial infidelity

When a couple marries, they share everything – both legally and emotionally. And one of those things that they share is their money.

 So, if one of the partners is spending too much money behind the other one’s back, then that’s financial infidelity.  

In addition to spending too much money, if one of them is secretly saving money and their partner doesn’t know, this is also financial infidelity.

In a healthy relationship, both partners are up to date on their financial situations without keeping secrets. [Read: How to talk about money with your partner without fighting about it]

2. Pouring your time and attention into a hobby

Spending quality time together is essential in any relationship or marriage. That doesn’t mean that you have to be together 24/7. But both of you do have to be emotionally committed to nurturing the relationship.

So, if you have a hobby that is more like an obsession than a general interest, you might be “cheating” on your partner by taking time away from the relationship. 

For example, if you are a health nut and spend every free minute you have in the gym, that means you have less time to spend with your partner. [Read: Emotionally unavailable man signs – 25 red flags to look for]

There’s nothing wrong with having a hobby or a passion in life. In fact, it’s healthy. But it’s only healthy if it doesn’t cause problems in your relationship.

3. Micro-cheating

There are a lot of behaviors that people engage in that seem normal or harmless when in reality, they aren’t. These little things are micro-cheating.

Some examples of micro-cheating include stalking your ex on social media, having an active online dating profile, texting someone you’re attracted to, or keeping secrets from your partner. [Read: Micro-cheating – What it is and signs you’re unintentionally doing it]

They may seem harmless, but your partner probably doesn’t think so. As a good rule of thumb, ask yourself, “would my partner be upset if they knew I was doing this?” or “would I be comfortable telling my partner I’m doing this?”

Also, ask yourself if you would be upset if your partner were doing the same thing to you.

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then it’s micro-cheating, and you should stop doing it. [Read: Is watching porn cheating? No, but it can make or break your sex life]

4. Commemorative infidelity

This one might be surprising to most people, as many wouldn’t jump to call it “cheating.” But for others, it can definitely fall into that category.

Commemorative infidelity is falling out of love with your partner but still staying in the relationship. While the person might not be talking to or seeing anyone else, they are still emotionally unavailable in the relationship.

In other words, this kind of infidelity is more like an emotional betrayal. Your partner is supposed to love you and be emotionally connected.

But if they withdraw and disconnect from you, then many people consider it cheating. [Read: The most practical steps you need to take to rebuild trust after being cheated on]

As you can see, these types of “cheating” also break down the trust in a relationship, even though they might not involve emotional or physical cheating.

It’s not impossible to rebuild trust, but it will take time, and effort, and it will also take forgiveness.

It can be extremely hard just to let it go. [Read: How to forgive a betrayer – 8 questions you need to ask them]

If you decide to stay with someone after they’ve cheated, no matter which of the types of cheating in a relationship occurred, you have to leave it in the past. 

You can’t keep bringing it up. You can deal with it, sure, but don’t keep throwing it back in their face.

If your partner has recently cheated on you, or if you’re being unfaithful, how you deal with it is your choice. [Read: The four most common yet painful types of cheating in a relationship

And while everyone will tell you what they think you should do, you should always go with how you feel and what your gut is telling you. One way or the other.

Have you ever been cheated on?

Hopefully, the answer to that is ‘no.’ However, if you have, did you consider what happened to you to be cheating before it happened, or did you change your definition of what is considered cheating during or after? 

For instance, if your partner was sexting another person and you found out, did you consider that to be cheating before you found out? And when you did find out, did you feel a huge sense of betrayal? [Read: Snapchat cheating – what it is, and 12 signs your partner is doing it]

What you consider to be cheating can change according to the situation. That’s why you should never try and work out in your own mind what your reaction would be if that happened. 

You can only feel it in the moment and allow the situation to sink in, working out how you feel over time. Rushed decisions will only lead to regret in the future.

Don’t listen too much to what other people say you should do. Your friend might be telling you that “once a cheater, always a cheater” and label your partner as a rat who can’t be trusted. [Read: How to get over someone cheating on you and repair the damage]

However, you might have a gut feeling that this isn’t the case. After a while, you might come to the realization that they made a mistake, they’re sorry for it, and they’re willing to work on themselves to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

In that case, if you want to take them back, it’s your choice and yours alone. Do not let anyone make you feel like cheating has to be the hard “we’re over.”

However, some people don’t deserve second chances. If they’re always hurting you, betrayed you to the point where you just can’t trust them again, or do it more than once, let them go. [Read: How to rebuild trust in a relationship after even the worst type of betrayal]

You deserve so much better. There is someone out there for you who won’t treat you in the same way.

While you should definitely have an idea in your mind of what is considered cheating to you, remember it can also be fluid. Your feelings can and do change according to what happens in your life. That’s okay. 

Give yourself time, and don’t feel rushed. If your partner is truly sorry for their actions, they’ll be willing to wait for you to reach a point where you can move on, too, regardless of what your final decision is. [Read: Is it possible to learn how to regain trust after cheating?]

What should you do if you’ve been cheated?

There is no right or wrong answer to what you should do about the situation when you discover your partner has cheated on you. It’s a very personal choice and a decision you have to make for yourself.

Everyone will interject and try and tell you to leave, and that’s something you should expect, but you should also take the time to work out how you feel, give yourself time, and come to your own final decision in the end.

Getting over an unfaithful incident

What’s happened cannot be undone. Instead, you could take fate into your own hands and decide to commit the exact same act upon your partner. [Read: Affairs in a relationship and the role of egos in fixing it]

But why? To feel that justice will be served? Hardly. If anything, trying to regain any kind of justice in a relationship isn’t possible. That doesn’t exist.

Justice is not served in relationships; love is. And to truly love is a test of one’s ability to move on. Just remember, as Gandhi once said, ‘an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.’

If you don’t want to feel miserable endlessly, you will have to try and forgive, forget or move out of it. There are far worse things in life that can happen to you, ones that are more worthy of your sorrow. [Read: Getting back with an ex for sex]

The life and love we create are the life and love we live. If you face situations that you define as cheating, it’s the belief in yourself and the way you think that will get you over this situation.

Ask yourself what is cheating, and define your boundary of faithfulness.

Too many relationships fail because the boundaries are not set at the beginning. But even if they are set, we get drawn into what is considered cheating by those that define it around us. [Read: 22 boundaries for your boyfriend’s female friend and sign he’s too close]

We set boundaries based on what we see in the movies or in our friends’ lives. It is only up to you to know what is worth the value and what isn’t.

We only live once in this lifetime and to let your eyes believe you’re being cheated makes you blinder to the bigger picture.

In life, we all make mistakes, and we all learn from them. But in love, when we make mistakes, we don’t allow ourselves to learn because we are restricted by whatever boundaries are placed on us. [Read: How do affairs start? The way they play out in real life]

Today, the temptation to cheat and even the opportunities to cheat have increased tenfold. Opposite sexes spend days and nights together over work or while socializing, and it takes a small oversight to make a huge mistake. 

We don’t live in a fairy tale romance where there’s just one good damsel and one prince charming. We’re surrounded by lovely fairy tale people all the time.

[Read: Drunk kiss dilemma – So you accidentally kissed someone when you’re drunk. Now what?!]

There is a huge gray area over what is considered cheating. Only you can decide what your definition is, but allow yourself the freedom to choose your reaction based on your experiences. 

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...