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I have had this conversation with a lot of people recently. What has become clear to me is that we all seem to have different definitions of what “cheating” is.

I was already somewhat aware of this from conversations with my boyfriend. In relationships I want to be very clear about what would be a break of trust because I have seen so many relationships suffer through a lack of communication on this level.

This also comes up because in one of my guilty pleasure TV shows, one of the main, married female characters is opening up emotionally and confiding in another (male) parent at the school. She isn’t telling her husband, and is not she actively hiding it from him. The conversations with the other parent are not sexual or based on their own marriages, they are just about struggles of being stay-at-home parents and problems with children. As this storyline progresses I find myself more and more uncomfortable. I feel like she’s cheating on her husband. You can tell from the story line that she feels guilty about this relationship.

But I don’t, intellectually, understand why this is cheating because if she were having those same conversations with a female parent there would be no problem at all. In fact, it probably wouldn’t even be a plot line in the show. Why is an identical conversation with a member of the opposite sex viewed as so taboo?

This is linking to the conversations I’ve been having on cheating. Is cheating purely a sexual thing? Is it a not being alone thing (ie. hiring an escort to have dinner and drinks with you [no sex] when your partner is out of town)? Is it emotional? Or is it all 3?

I know the emotional component is an important one to some people. I’ve heard women talk about their partner’s having an “emotional affair” even when sex wasn’t involved. In fact, from what I’ve observed, people have a harder time forgiving an emotional affair than a physical one.

Is there a difference between cheating that is purely sexual (hiring a prostitute) versus cheating that’s based on mutual physical attraction between friends?

For me, I think the emotional ‘version’ is worse, but what I think is most important is how the partner responds after the ‘cheating’. Say they cheat in some way and then tell you about it soon after. This is far different to someone who is cheating and even lying about it when asked.
Obviously, some types of cheating (emotional) are far harder to define than others. I don’t expect my significant other to tell me everything he’s feeling and not share those things with anyone else; I don’t think that’s healthy. He needs someone that he can vent to when I’m annoying or screw up. Our immediate reactions to our partner’s bad behaviors are not things that would be useful or kind to share with our partner, so we often have a friend to offload this feelings onto.

I would say that it becomes more of an “emotional affair” when the partner is telling the other person more about their feelings in general than they tell their own partner. The other question in this is whether gender matters. In a heterosexual relationship we tend not to feel “threatened” by our partner opening up with someone of his/her own gender, but if it’s someone of our own gender then we feel threatened. If an affair is purely emotional does it matter whether the person is male, female, or other?

Or is the issue with an emotional affair the idea that it might lead to something sexual?

I just find this interesting because we all seem to have such differing views, and this seems like it could cause some big problems for future relationships.
Do you define cheating with your partner? Do you both agree? What do you think cheating is?