There is no universal definition for cheating. There are as many definitions of fidelity as there are relationships, and what constitutes cheating for two partners may just be a wild weekend for two others. But if you and your boo are strictly monogamous, there are ways in which you could be stepping out on your S.O. without actually having sex.
"Often, people will get upset when they notice some kind of energy shift between their partner and another person, and the partner in question will always respond with 'Nothing happened," says Jean Fitzpatrick, LP, a premarital and marital therapist in NYC. "When they say that, they really mean there was no physical intimacy that happened. But that's not always when cheating happens."
According to Fitzpatrick, cheating in monogamous relationships happens when one partner decides to keep a secret from the other. "It's not that you necessarily need to be telling your partner everything, like that you ran into an old friend on the street," she says. "But when you're making the active decision to keep something from them, because you think they might have a negative reaction, then that points to a problem." The lying goes the other way, too. Fitzpatrick says that if you keep the fact that you have a partner from another person, that can be a cheating red flag.
You've probably heard the term "emotional affair" before, and Fitzpatrick says that's absolutely something that can happen. "In fact, these can be very intense relationships that can have a lot more damaging effects on the primary relationship than a sexual affair could," she says. And these relationships don't need to manifest IRL, either. Given the popularity of dating apps, folks can have affairs with people they haven't even met before. "There's a whole world out there full of people that your partner could be speaking with," Fitzpatrick said. "And online relationships can seem innocent, because there's no physical contact. But it's still something being kept in secret."
If you're on the opposite side of the scenario, and you suspect your partner of cheating, there are some warning signs you can look out for. "If you're feeling your partner isn't giving as much energy to the relationship, or they're being a little distant, that could point to an emotional relationship," Fitzpatrick says. "You should also be a little concerned if they go out of their way to assure you that this new 'friend' they're spending time with is just a friend." If your spidey senses are tingling, she suggests trusting your gut, pulling your partner aside and letting it out. "Just say 'Look, I have some concerns. It seems like you're getting pretty close to this person,'" Fitzpatrick says. By creating a safe space for your partner, you up the chances of them actually letting you know what's going on. And if they admit to cheating, it's your call as to how you want to proceed. "People can move past cheating, but both partners need to be on the same page, which can take time," Fitzpatrick says.
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