What qualifies as cheating? It’s an age-old question, one with myriad answers which vary depending on who you’re talking to and how much extra-marital canoodling you’re willing to dismiss as inconsequential.
However, there’s more to infidelity than the obvious offenders, such as sleeping with someone else.
For some people, it could be a case of simply texting an ex or “sliding into their DMs”, explains dating coach Madeleine Mason.
“Because people have different boundaries, someone may think flirting is fine, while for someone else it’s considered emotional cheating,” she told The Independent.
While definitions vary couple-to-couple, there are some common underlying factors, such as secrecy, deception and emotional volatility.
However, according to experts speaking to Women’s Health, there are five definitive types of cheating and surprisingly, two of them may not even involve your partner.
- Physical cheating
This might come as a surprise, but being physically intimate with someone who is not your partner is usually considered cheating, unless you go all Ross from Friends and insist that you “were on a break”.
However obvious it may seem, even physical infidelity is not necessarily immune from ambivalence.
Grey areas arise when you get into the minutiae of intimacy, which your teenage self will recall as an all-inclusive scale ranging from kissing to intercourse.
At what “level” you decide to call cheating is up to you and your partner, dating coach Jo Barnett told The Independent.
- Having sexual fantasies about someone else
It’s normal to fantasize about people you find attractive, regardless of whether or not you’re in a relationship, relationship therapist Max Lundquist told Women’s Health.
However, run-of-the-mill daydreams about the gardener venture into adulterous waters when they lead to “unsafe or dishonest behaviour,” he said.
In other words, if you’re fantasies about said gardener lead you to spending all of your time picking weeds in the garden when your partner thinks you’re at work, it can become a problem.
- Having romantic feelings about someone else
Also known as “emotional infidelity”, the lines for this breed of cheating can also be a little blurry.
Essentially, this boils down to harbouring feelings for someone else which, Barnett explained, is something that really is beyond your partner’s control.
“There is an undertone of disloyalty here,” she said.
While it’s not a crime to have loving relationships with more than one person, Lundquist argues that the infidelity arc comes into play when secrecy is involved i.e. you only ever see that person behind your partner’s back.
However, Mason argues that in order for these feelings to count as infidelity, they need to be acted upon. If they simply stay in your head, “it wouldn’t constitute infidelity in my book,” she said.
- Secret spending
Yep, hiding your spending habits from your other half can be considered a form of infidelity, Lundquist argues.
Typically, this classification arises when such spending affects both people in the relationship and yet one person insists on harbouring their expenditure, be it for personal or professional reasons.
“This can cause problems and I would say it’s unfair not to disclose these activities as you are bound to get found out anyway,” Barnett said.
- Secret social media activity
According to Dana Weiser, human development professor at Texas Tech University, social media infidelity is also becoming common in romantic partnerships and usually takes two forms.
The first is implicitly sexual i.e. you spend time liking ex-partner’s Instagram posts or flirting with people on dating apps, she told Women’s Health.
The second, Lundquist explained, can be described as cheating on your partner with your smartphone in that you spend more time engaging with your social media feeds than you do with them.
However, Mason adds that this can only really be considered infidelity if there is an ulterior motive involved that might lead to extramarital activities, such as sexting or spending a disproportionate amount of time in deep conversations online.
Excessive social media usage may also exacerbate insecurities within the relationship, Barnett explains.
“Obsessing over people you follow Instagram can be very annoying and could leave your partner feeling less secure.”