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What Should You Consider Cheating? Defining the Limits of Your Relationship

What Should You Consider Cheating? Defining the Limits of Your Relationship

How do you define cheating? Is it flirting? A kiss? Defining cheating may be different for different people, but it is extremely important to define the limits of your relationship based on the comfort level of you and your partner. 

If you’re struggling with defining the rules, you are not alone. Here are a few things to consider: 

What is Cheating, a Definition?

Defining Cheating

Put simply, cheating within a relationship is traditionally defined as being unfaithful to your monogamous partner either sexually or emotionally by being intimate, either sexually or emotionally, with another person. This definition is very broad and, oftentimes, problematic.

The Problem With the Standard Definition

The classic definition of cheating makes a lot of assumptions and often leaves a lot to interpretation. Let’s break the definition down into emotional vs. physical cheating and examine the problems. 

Emotional Cheating

This is classically defined as devoting time and energy to someone outside of your relationship. This definition is problematic at best and dangerous at worst because it implies that devoting time to family and friendships can be construed as emotional cheating. 

The truth is, human beings are naturally social creatures, and it is perfectly normal and healthy for us to have an emotional connection with our friends and family.  You should not expect your partner to devote all of their emotional energy and spare time to your relationship. In fact, if your partner is constantly badgering you for spending time with friends and family, this is actually a red flag that is consistent with abuse. 

A better definition is perhaps having your partner form an emotional connection to a friend or a new friend, rooted in feelings of romance. 

Physical Cheating

This is typically defined as being sexual with someone outside of your monogamous relationship. However, this definition can vary widely as well. Some people consider flirting with someone else cheating, while others feel that kissing and having sex constitute cheating. Again this definition is problematic as a standard because it is so variable. 

How Should You Define Cheating? 

The best way to define cheating is to consider your own feelings and have an honest discussion with your partner. If you are doing something and you feel guilty about it, it’s probably cheating. On the other hand, if your partner is doing something that makes you uncomfortable, you should speak up as well. This may not be an easy discussion, and it may require some self-exploration on your part, but the best thing to do in your relationship is to help set your own rules. 

Tips for Approaching the Cheating-Talk

Speaking to your partner about cheating can be tricky. Here are a few ways to approach the topic and a few things to think about to help you prepare for the discussion: 

Tips for Setting Up the Talk

Step one to having the talk is figuring out how to broach the subject with your partner. Consider: 

  • Let your partner know that you want to have the conversation.
  • Explain that it is important to you to ensure that you both clearly define your limits.
  • Plan a time that is low-stress if possible. Avoid the talk if you’re angry or stressed. 
  • Prepare to be patient with your partner and to actively listen to their concerns and beliefs.

Questions to ask yourself before the talk with your partner include: 

  • What are some things that I consider cheating? 
  • What have I seen my partner do that makes me feel uncomfortable? 
  • What has my partner brought up as making them feel uncomfortable? 
  • What are some of the relationships and friendships that are important in your life that your partner may find concerning?
  • Are my expectations reasonable and healthy for my relationship? 

Once you’re ready to talk to your partner, topics to discuss include: 

  • How does each of you define cheating?
  • If there is a difference of definitions, you may need to discuss those differences and come to an arrangement.
  • Be prepared to try to address your partner’s concerns and expect them to try to address yours.

Keep in mind that your idea of cheating, once you get down to the details, might be quite different from your partner’s idea of cheating. If this is the case, do not worry. After all, the whole reason for the conversation is to set clear boundaries within both of your comfort zones. 

Do I Need to Have Multiple Cheating-Talks With My Partner? 

Maybe. After your initial discussion, you may realize that you have forgotten to mention something, or perhaps you thought that you were fine with your partner doing x with y, but it turns out that you are really uncomfortable. Honesty is vital; you should not have to be afraid to bring up your concerns. 

When Should I Have the Cheating-Talk With My Partner? 

This, again, depends on you, your partner, and how quickly you are moving in your relationship. If you are officially ‘together’ and are ‘exclusive,’ it may be time to address each other’s comfort levels when it comes to interacting with others. 

Defining Cheating in Polyamorous Relationships

Polyamorous relationships are defined as having relationships, romantic or sexual, with multiple people through mutual agreement and consent of all parties involved. Polyamory, through its very nature of mutual consent and understanding, is fundamentally different from cheating because cheating involves going behind your partner’s back and doing something you are not supposed to do with someone other than your partner. 

Cheating in Polyamory

Yes, it absolutely can happen. If a partner in a polyamorous relationship meets another person and goes behind the backs of their existing partners to have sex with them or gets emotionally romantic without discussing it first, it is considered cheating. However, because polyamorous relationships are built around multiple people, discussing what is and what is not ok between partners, and even new love interests, is often more commonplace. 


  • It can be tough to define cheating in a relationship.
  • You and your partner, or partners, should definitely discuss what is and is not considered cheating. 
  • Make sure that your expectations and your partner’s expectations for physical and emotional fidelity are reasonable. And take into account cultural differences.
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