That Depends On Your Definition of Cheating.
What is cheating? Does a kiss, a long glance, a casual screw, an online romance or a secret emotional connection constitute relationship infidelity? As a culture that celebrates diversity, it is important to remember that relationships come in all shapes and sizes. Accordingly, there is no determinate set of acts or behaviours can be universally considered cheating. Some people are open to (even welcoming of) friendly flirting, intimate friendships and casual threesomes, while others cringe at the thought of sharing their partners.
There is no perfect fit for relationships. Serial monogamy, polyamory, open relationship triads, swinging and a range of other options are all legitimate and potentially challenging arrangements. Proponents of monogamy may claim that their relationship provides more intense intimacy and companionship, while polyamorists may view monogamy as a limiting form of possession.
It is easy to be critical or judgmental of relationships that are different from our own, but ultimately, it is a personal choice and all types of relationships that underscore honesty, equality and respect should be enjoyed and celebrated.
Because our subjective expectations of fidelity within relationships differ, communication is of utmost importance. It may feel unnatural or unromantic to talk about specific expectations, but it is the only sure-fire way to ensure that you’re on the same page as your partners. It is better to talk openly about boundaries before they begin to be challenged as opposed to wondering whether or not your behaviour or that of your partners constitutes cheating.
One element of non-monogamous relationships is the absolute need to communicate, establish rules and revisit agreed-upon arrangements. This is not to say that non-monogamous relationships are preferable to monogamous arrangements (non-monogamy presents unique challenges including intense social stigma), but simply that the requisite for open communication provides a framework for discussing desires, concerns and expectations.
Those who opt for the common arrangement of monogamy may feel a greater sense of security and stability; however, as definitions of monogamy (sexual, emotional, intimate, spiritual, etc.) vary, a discussion of personal expectations is absolutely necessary.
Talking about boundaries and expectations also produces a perfect opportunity to discuss the potential for diversity or experimentation within all types of relationships. Clients who are interested in swinging often ask for advice on how to introduce the subject to their partners. While it is unlikely that most people will be open to a sudden change in relationship structure, asking your partners about their fantasies can create an exciting dialogue and produce shared fantasies and role play games that can be even more mind-blowing than the real thing.
But back to the question at hand: what is cheating? In short, cheating involves engaging in any activity (emails, text messages, telephone calls, physical intimacy, emotional companionship, etc.) to which your partners would not consent. A good starting point is to act in a similar manner both in the presence and absence of your partners. If they would be uncomfortable watching you act in a particular manner and you value and respect your relationship, it is likely that you may want to reconsider your behaviour. As relationships differ and evolve with time, the definition of cheating is fluid and is determined only by the individuals involved in the relationship.
Relationships take work and if you value a relationship, you likely care about respecting your partners’ feelings. So if you haven’t done so already, talk it over and determine what activities are appropriate and which ones make you uncomfortable within the context of your unique connection. Consider revisiting your agreement every six or twelve months to discuss any changes or concerns. As your relationship progresses and intimacy intensifies, you may want more or less “monogamy” to keep your love and sex life fun and fulfilling.
If the act of cheating itself turns you on, consider role playing scenarios to fulfill this fantasy. Your partners may need lots of reassurance that it will remain a fantasy and you can rest assured that a well played-out role play will likely be better (and less risky) than the real thing. After all, the best sex often occurs in your head as opposed to between your legs.