Experiencing infidelity in a relationship is a hurtful and damaging experience. However, the reality is that staying faithful to one person can sometimes be challenging. We all have sexual needs and desires, and sometimes it can be very difficult to deny those feelings and uphold one’s vows of monogamy.
After all, in the early days of humankind when couples mated for life, they did so when most people didn’t live past their 30s. Now, we are living well into our 80s, 90s, and beyond…and that can mean that “happily ever after” feels like a very long time.
Cheating doesn’t come in just one shape and size. When we think of infidelity, we tend to picture a forbidden love affair involving hotel rooms and secretive hookups. However, infidelity often looks different in today’s tech-savvy society. From Facebook flirting to online affairs to extramarital sexting, modern society has changed everything about the way we live, including the way we cheat. Now, we don’t even have to leave our houses to be unfaithful to our spouses. We can simply log on to Facebook and swap racy emails with an ex-boyfriend, all while in the comfort of our own living rooms.
Our lack of work/life balance has also changed the way that we relate to our partners. Emotional affairs are on the rise, as we spend more and more time at the office and less time at home. Many people even confess to having a “work husband” or “work wife.” They spend the entire day with these coworkers, eating meals together, gossiping together, meeting up for happy hour and swapping funny emails. Even if physical boundaries aren’t crossed, a relationship like this can quickly feel very intense and intimate.
Navigating such temptations isn’t easy, especially when the boundaries of what constitutes cheating aren’t exactly clear. Is it okay to share laughs and flirtations with a member of the opposite sex, as long as you never cross the physical line? What is cheating and what happens when couples have different definitions of that?
Here are some things to keep in mind:
• If you wouldn’t do it or say it in front of your partner, you shouldn’t be doing or saying it at all. This is a simple rule of thumb that can help to clear up any, “Is it cheating?” confusion. Just ask yourself: Would I be embarrassed or worried if my partner saw how I was behaving right now?
• It’s okay to be a flirtatious and sexual person. It’s not okay to channel that energy into your relationship with your coworker instead of your partner. If you find yourself thinking about your coworker or your “work spouse” more than you do about your actual spouse, that’s a big red flag. Even if you haven’t cheated yet, you are cheating your partner out of your time and attention, and that is incredibly damaging to your relationship. Hit the brakes.
• Ask yourself: What am I getting out of this? If you find yourself routinely tempted to flirt with people other than your spouse or you find yourself sending intimate emails to an ex, it’s time to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? What am I getting out of this?” Your behavior must be rewarding to you in some way, otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it, so find out what it is that you are gaining from crossing the line. Is it that you feel desirable and wanted? Does it make you feel sexy or powerful? Or does it simply entertain you when you are bored? Find out what is lacking in your own relationship and then find ways to bring that spontaneity and passion back into your own sex life.
• Talk with your partner about your boundaries. It’s important for you and your partner to be on the same page about what constitutes cheating, especially online. Have a conversation about where your limits are and troubleshoot ways you can cheat-proof your relationship and keep your bond safe.
Laura Berman, PhD, is a world renowned sex and relationship educator and therapist; popular TV, radio and Internet host; New York Times best-selling author; and assistant clinical professor of ob-gyn and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. Dr. Berman is a New York Times best-selling author of many books on sexual health and pleasure, a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, and host of the radio program "Uncovered with Dr. Laura Berman."