6 Things To Know About Infidelity

African American man and woman arguingI was invited to speak on the radio recently in Philadelphia about infidelity and how couples can restore intimacy in their relationships. As you can imagine, there were a number of callers who offered sentiments about relationship survival, severance or trauma endured. Given the candidness of the discussion, I thought it would be helpful to write about this sensitive issue that affects many relationships and families.

1. What is infidelity?

Infidelity happens when two parties have made an explicit (e.g., “We are going to be emotionally and sexually monogamous,” or “We are together,”) or implicit (e.g., We kissed, had sex, shared secrets, spent time with each other’s family, etc. but the relationship status was not discussed) agreement to not engage in the same behavior or emotional interaction with another person. When the agreement is severed by one or both parties, any transaction with another person is expected to be disclosed or maintained a secret (contingent upon one’s value system regarding truth, honesty, disclosure, etc.).

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Infidelity is individually constructed and relative to the person. In other words, there are many perspectives about what cheating is/is not, what infidelity means to the relationship, and whether or not it is a “deal breaker.” So for example, you may believe that a person cheats when he/she engages in oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone else but feel that sexting an ex-partner is playful flirting. Another example might be sharing secrets or engaging in intimate behaviors with someone other than your primary partner and rationalizing the experience as “not cheating” because you never had sex with the other person.

Yet another example might be, sexual intimacy with someone other than your partner but believe that since the feelings you have for the other person are not as strong as those for your primary partner, then the act was not cheating. A final example might be having a romantic interlude with someone else and not disclosing it to your partner. If confronted about it, then it’s cheating….if you are not confronted by your spouse, then it is okay. Please understand that if you and your partner have not talked about your actions and consented to those actions beforehand…it’s cheating.