It’s become the question of the hour. Headlines ask it in newspapers. Interviewers query experts on radio talk shows. Bloggers add their two cents online.
While everyone seems to have an opinion on this latest method of electronic dalliance, the answer really lies in the definition of cheating.
Cheating is commonly defined as the act of having sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse or significant other. This explanation leaves an incredible amount of territory in which inappropriate behavior can occur. The “Everything but ” defense has been used by strayers since time began. Many a defiant infidel has, when caught with his or her pants down, responded, “No, I did not technically cheat.”
Yet when I consult Noah Webster on the definition of cheating, I see nothing about sexual intercourse. Rather, cheating is defined as dishonesty, swindling, deception and sham. Mr. Webster doesn’t care if we only chat dirty with that guy from the last class reunion or tweet lewd pictures of ourselves because we are horny. If we commit those acts without our loved ones’ knowledge, or if we engage in those behaviors late at night or when they’re away at work, we’re being dishonest and deceitful.
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That’s called cheating in my book.
When we commit ourselves to another person in a relationship, we promise to have sex with only that person. That’s what commitment’s all about. Traditional marriage ceremonies often use phrases such as “faithful until death parts us,” or “keeping only unto each other for as long as we both shall live,” to convey the same message.
But sex is much more than intercourse. It’s the complex array of behaviors that draws two people closer together. It can be as subtle as playing footsie in a restaurant or squeezing hubby’s tush as he passes by. Or it can be as blatant as a naughty promise of what will happen when the kids are in bed. Whatever the form, the underlying message never wavers: “I’m attracted to you and I’m directing all my sexual energy your way.” Any time that energy gets re-routed, trouble inevitably festers. It can happen at work, with a best friend’s spouse, or with cyber-honeys you’ve never met. You may try to kid yourself: “Oh, this is harmless. My boyfriend will never find out.” You might even rationalize what you’re doing: “She’s never interested in sex any more. I deserve to have some fun.”
The bottom line is that you’re cheating. You’re deliberately deceiving someone you profess to love. You don’t need to have been physically intimate. Your actions have crossed the line.
Are you crossing the line?
Not sure if your behavior constitutes cheating? Honestly ask yourself the following questions:
Is your behavior harming your current relationship? You know what makes you feel closer. You know how to rekindle the spark. If you’re not headed in that direction, change your course before it’s too late.
Would you like your partner to be doing the same thing? Put yourself in your significant other’s shoes to experience the consequence of your actions.
Will your partner be pleased if he or she finds out? Look into the future. Imagine your cover’s just been blown. If you foresee a cataclysmic disaster, you know what the answer will be.
Are you pleased with yourself about what you are doing? Forget your partner for the moment. Let’s focus on you. Does it feel good to lie and sneak around your loved one? You are your ultimate judge.
Are you hiding your actions from your partner? Do you go online after midnight or sext when you’re out of the house? If you can’t do something in front of your significant other you know you’re doing something wrong.
Would others in the family approve of your actions? Would your parents be proud of what you’re doing? Do you hope your kids follow in your path? You can tell yourself their opinions don’t matter. The truth is they do. Do you know deep down that you’re behaving badly but trying to pretend you don’t have a clue? Each of us has a moral compass that warns us when we’re about to run aground. You can ignore its signals if you choose to. But at some point you’re going to crash.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com