The age-old question—and perhaps a question that does not truly have one answer—seems to be this: If you flirt with another person while you are in a committed relationship, does this count as cheating?
Although for some people the answer may be very straightforward—absolutely, you are cheating on your partner if you are flirting with another person while in a committed relationship—other people might be more lenient depending upon their definition of “cheating.”
So, before actually diving into the question of whether or not flirting counts as cheating while in a relationship, we should first flesh out the definition of cheating.
Cheating: What is it?
While the question of what constitutes cheating may seem just as fuzzy as the question of whether or not flirting counts as a form of cheating, there are a few actions that we can count as cheating right from the beginning, and that most people would—without a doubt—consider cheating.
There are three big forms of cheating, as well as a few minor forms of cheating.
The first and most obvious form of cheating is having sexual relations with another person while you are in a committed relationship. If you have a friend show up at your house in tears crying “they cheated on me,” then this is probably the type of cheating to which they are referring because it’s very clearly a betrayal of trust and one that cannot be reversed.
The second form of cheating is the old sext scandal. Sext scandals—instances when you discover dirty text messages on your partner’s phone or computer to an individual with whom they have not yet had sexual relations but are in the midst of planning sexual relations—could very well be the most common type of cheating, especially considering the fact that we spend much of our lives on our phones and online nowadays.
Sext scandals could go one way or the other when it comes to cheating since the physical and sexual cheating has not actually occurred yet, but if there is intention to cheat, then we may as well count it as cheating, right?
The last big form of cheating is emotional cheating and—sometimes—this type of cheating can be the worst to discover because it means that your partner is not only building a physical relationship with another person but is becoming emotionally connected to that other person, as well. This can mean that they are becoming less emotionally invested in you, which hurts so much more than just a one-night stand with someone they don’t really care about.
Finally, there are also a few—what we might call—minor forms of cheating such as kissing someone else on the cheek, consistently liking and commenting upon another person’s social media posts, and sending flirtatious text messages to another person.
According to Patti Callahan Henry, “over time, hidden truths morph in the dark soil of deceit into something much worse,” and the same can be said when it comes to cheating. If you participate in some seemingly harmless flirting with a coworker or a random stranger in a bar but it ends up turning into something much more, you may find yourself in a difficult situation when your current partner finds out about said harmless flirting.
Just Answer the Question: Is Flirting Cheating?
To answer the question of whether or not flirting counts as cheating while in a committed relationship: Anything can count as “cheating” if your partner counts it as cheating.
This is why it is so important to establish boundaries regarding cheating early on in your relationship. In fact, it might be beneficial to sit down with your partner and discuss some of the following questions:
- Have you been cheated on in the past?
- If so, how did your past partner cheat on you and why did they cheat on you?
- Have you ever cheated on a partner in the past?
- If so, how did you cheat on your past partner and why did you cheat on them?
- What do you consider “cheating”?
If your partner is fresh out of a relationship in which they were cheated on by their past partner and you are already aware of this, then they may not want to answer some of the above questions, which is completely understandable. The same might be said of you if you just got out of an unhealthy relationship in which your partner cheated on you in some way.
The main thing is to learn about your partner and their past relationships—and also share some of your past relationship experiences with them, too—so you both have a good understanding of where you stand when it comes to cheating. This will make things much easier moving forward in your relationship since you will both be aware of the other person’s feelings and past experiences.
Yes, it will likely be a bit of an awkward conversation, but it will be well worth it at the end.
Can the Definition of “Cheating” Change After Boundaries are Established?
Unfortunately—and this is especially true when someone has never been cheated on before in past relationships—the definition of cheating can change in your relationship even after boundaries have been established.
For instance, your partner might say that they are fine with you harmlessly flirting with other people at the bar or even giving out your phone number to other people—as long as you don’t intend to answer their text messages—but when these things actually happen and your partner witnesses them, they might change their mind and claim that you cheated on them.
When this occurs, you could simply remind your partner of the boundaries you set at the beginning of the relationship. After which, they might wish to redefine “cheating” and establish new boundaries.
It’s also possible that—although you and your partner set boundaries—they might already be too hurt by your actions to continue the relationship. It’s unfortunate but happens more often than you think. If this is the case, one can only say—as Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote—“tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”
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