sad woman sitting at the edge of the bed

What is Considered Cheating? A Deep Dive To Understanding

Cheating in a relationship is more common than most couples would like to admit. Different people may have different ideas of what constitutes cheating, but in general, cheating refers to any romantic or sexual behavior with someone else outside of the primary relationship.

Cheating damages trust between partners and can deeply hurt a relationship. Understanding what is considered cheating and why people cheat can help couples set appropriate boundaries and rebuild broken trust if infidelity occurs.

What is Cheating in a Relationship?

Cheating in a relationship essentially involves one partner being emotionally or physically unfaithful to the other partner. Typical forms of cheating include:

  • Having an affair – A romantic and/or sexual relationship with someone else outside of the primary partnership. This could be an ongoing secondary relationship or a one-time act of physical intimacy.
  • Emotional affair – Developing a close personal and emotional connection with someone else. This may or may not become physical over time.
  • Sexting – Sexually-charged digital communication with someone else, including sharing intimate photos, messages, and videos.
  • Kissing someone else – Kissing is generally considered cheating, except in certain cultural contexts or within some mutually agreed upon non-monogamous relationships.

What is Considered Cheating in a Marriage?

cheating in marriage will hurt

Marriage represents a profound commitment of trust, intimacy, and mutual care between spouses. Due to those deep bonds and commitment, married couples have uniquely high expectations of faithfulness from their spouse. Any breach of expected fidelity or trust in a marriage, even if unspoken, constitutes one that damages the integrity of the marriage, what counts as cheating.

Monogamy is presumed in most marriages, meaning spouses commit to sharing romantic, sexual, and emotional intimacy exclusively with their marital partner. Any kind of affairs, secret liaisons, or romantic attachments formed outside of the marriage would violate most couples’ boundaries and definitions of faithfulness—regardless of the precise details or whether one spouse was aware.

Even in a marriage with a mutually agreed upon allowance for some sexual contact outside of the relationship, developing an actual secret relationship or serious emotional connection with someone else still qualifies as cheating for most couples. The long-term deception, redirecting of passion and resources, and possible STDs harm the openness, commitment, and care between spouses in a way most would consider cheating in a relationship.

Thus, infidelity of any kind in a marriage—emotional, communicative, sexual, or otherwise—violates the trust spouses offer one another and provides grounds for the betrayed spouse to end the relationship. Even if tolerated temporarily due to religious or family considerations, the trust and intimacy at the core of a marriage are ruptured by any cheating.

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Cheating in a Relationship: Is it a Common Problem?

Research consistently shows that it is estimated that 70% of marriages experience an affair because about 60% of men and 45% of women are prepared to acknowledge having had an affair at some point. Rates are typically higher among dating couples, especially in younger demographics, as many of them can’t yet clarify what is considered cheating on your girlfriend, for instance, or boyfriend.

Up to 70% of marriages experience emotional affairs, specifically. Internet usage, increased social circles, longer life expectancy, and decreased social stigma about divorce mean more opportunities and motivations to cheat than in past generations.

However, of all Americans, 3 out of 4 claim they have been in a monogamous relationship at some point in the past, and 51% say they are in one now.

Different Types of Cheating

Cheating comes in different forms, but they all involve some breach of the agreed-upon boundaries, trust, and intimacy exclusive to the primary committed relationship. The three most commonly discussed types of cheating in a relationship include:

Emotional Affairs

Emotional affairs do not necessarily include any physical intimacy, but the secrecy and emotional investment directed outside of the relationship can profoundly damage trust and connection with the primary partner. Partners engaging in emotional affairs redirect attention, confide thoughts and feelings, share inside jokes, discuss problems in the relationship, etc., with someone new instead of the person they committed to build a life with.

While no sexual activity occurs necessarily, the emotional affairs mimic the friendship, understanding, and dependable support the primary relationship should offer. The cheating partner bonds with and gains emotional energy and fulfillment from someone else, which makes an emotional affair one of the most accessible types of cheating in a relationship. Though no bodily contact happens, the primary partner still feels replaced and betrayed. The intimate connections that form the foundation of strong relationships form with an interloper instead.

Sexual Affairs

Sexual affairs encompass a wide range of physical intimacy formed with someone outside of the primary partnership, from one-night stands while traveling or drunk to established mistresses/lover relationships maintained over time. Regardless of length, these affairs redirect sexual energy and exclusive physical access to someone else—a fundamental violation of committed relationships.

The cheating partner’s body forms the most profound physical bonds with multiple people, confusing intimacy needs. This factor makes such an affair to be called one of the riskiest types of cheating in a relationship. Safety risks like STDs also enter the relationship without the other partner’s consent. Even if largely lust-driven, attraction and aspects of emotional entanglement often accompany sexual affairs as well.


Micro-cheating describes behaviors that approach the line of infidelity but do not quite clearly cross established boundaries—however, frequency and intentions matter greatly. Flirting with intent, developing inside jokes with attractive coworkers, purposefully confiding more in friends versus one’s partner, and other “close call” behaviors erode intimacy, too.

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Types of Cheating: How to Understand That Your Partner is Experiencing the Problem

cheating types in relationships

Recognizing potential infidelity requires paying attention to changes in your partner’s usual behaviors over an extended period. People simply don’t understand what’s considered cheating on your boyfriend, for instance, or girlfriend. Though occasional secretiveness or less emotional availability could stem from ordinary stress, frequent and escalating forms of the following behaviors likely indicate cheating:

  • Increased secrecy – Does your partner suddenly keep their phone upside down, take calls in other rooms, or toggle screens when you enter? Password-protected devices, vague or conflicting explanations about their activities, and heightened nervousness around you seeing incoming texts/emails often arouse suspicion, too. 
  • More time away – Dramatic increases in time allegedly at “happy hours with colleagues,” with a new running group, or working late might cover secret trysts with affair partners. Excess unaccounted time prompts legitimate doubts about cheating in a relationship.
  • Decreased intimacy – If your formerly passionate partner rarely makes eye contact, refuses sex often, or shows less physical affection with kisses and touches, they likely invest that energy elsewhere. Emotional intimacy may diminish, too, if they confide less in you versus outside friends and allies. 
  • Suspicious spending – Unexplained receipts, credit charges, or ATM withdrawals could involve gifts, trips, or accommodations connected to an affair. Major redirection of household money provokes relationship crises on its own anyway.
  • Appearance focus – While keeping fit and looking sharp may stem from personal goals or aging anxiety, a sudden obsession with looks can link to interest in or efforts to attract someone new, which can lead to cheating in a relationship. 
  • Overall distance – If your partner seems distracted, impatient, overly criticized, or disconnected from family life with you, they mentally separate themselves as part of justifying cheating behaviors. Defensiveness and gaslighting often emerge, too, if questioned.

Trust your gut. Dramatic, sustained changes in how your partner treats you and spends their time likely conceal a betrayal rather than ordinary fluctuation. Patterns matter most, not occasional lapses. Confront dishonesty and infidelity directly before it irreparably ruins the relationship.

Examples of Cheating

Cheating manifests in as many ways as human connection allows. In addition to physical and emotional affairs, common examples of cheating include:

  • Reactivating dating profiles – Some attached people reopen Tinder or Match accounts “just to look” or flirt virtually. This violates committed partners’ sense of priority and risks facilitating actual meetups.
  • Confiding in and friendship flirtation with alternative romantic prospects – Coworkers, neighbors, friends from school, and acquaintances often make appealing affair partners because proximity and backstory connections already exist. “Work spouses” or very close opposite-sex friends tread a risky line between platonic and cheating. Lingering hugging and emotional conversations about frustrations in the actual marriage count as cheating intimacy for most.
  • Sexual content exchange – One of the most insulting examples of cheating. Sexting, sending intimate images, dirty messaging, phone sex, and sharing fantasies constitute intimacy and infidelity, even if many miles apart. The sexual energy still channels away from the partner unfairly.
  • Pornography use and habits – For some couples, one partner secretly turns more attention and sexual energy to excessive porn and masturbation rather than intimacy with their spouse, which damages the relationship similar to cheating. Some consider cam girl interactions and transactions a bridge too far as well.
  • Long-term friendshipping – Purposefully befriending and escalating bonding with alternative romantic/sexual prospects constitutes cheating intentions and risky boundary crossing for many—especially without disclosing the contacts to assure transparency. Few affairs begin with outright propositioning; nourishing intimacy that could catch flame cheapens existing commitment.
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Even if some examples of cheating cause less devastation than full parallel relationships maintained through patterns of lies, any betrayal of agreed-upon faithfulness sabotages bonds of trust in relationships. All require repair efforts and renegotiated terms if the partnership hopes to continue.


Cheating remains a painful challenge in many committed relationships. Different couples create different boundaries, but most center on honesty, faithfulness, and intimacy. Addressing concerns calmly and owning mistakes quickly can allow healing.

If cheating becomes habitual or cannot be moved past, professional counseling or ending the relationship may become necessary for individual well-being. With good communication, hard work, and professional support if needed, many couples do successfully work through and recover after cheating by a partner. Prioritizing intimacy and trust is essential. Knowing what is considered cheating is a must. 


Is flirting considered cheating?

Occasional light flirtation may not necessarily constitute cheating for all couples. But any flirting that betrays expectations of faithfulness or damages intimacy should be avoided. Repeatedly flirting can indicate an emotional or physical affair is developing.

Do emotional affairs count as cheating?

For most couples, deep emotional intimacy with another person certainly qualifies as cheating because it directs feelings and components of your committed partnership elsewhere. It risks the same damage to trust, self-esteem, and bonding. However, it may depend on what is considered cheating in the particular couple. 

Is staying together after cheating weak?

Every couple needs to decide for themselves what is best in light of infidelity. As long as both people want to recommit and do the work to heal the relationship genuinely, reconciliation after cheating does not inherently make you weak. It can demonstrate strength.



Catherine Mayers

Catherine is a psychologist and certified relationship coach with over 10 years experience helping couples heal after infidelity. Her approach provides a judgement-free space to process emotions, get to root issues, and take active steps to reconnect or mindfully part ways. Catherine offers research-based strategies to manage difficult emotions, rebuild broken trust, and improve communication. She provides empathetic guidance to empower couples during this challenging time, both through direct counseling and her insightful articles on repairing relationships after cheating.

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