Why Should the Concept of “treason” Be Defined in a Relationship?

The early stages of dating can be fun – figuring out if you’re willing to give up your limited time alone to meet a new person. But between all the listings of siblings and hobbies, chances are these early conversations don’t include how each of you defines “cheating.” And why would they?

This may not be a topic that naturally pops up on your first few dates, but it should be discussed after a while to make sure all parties involved are on the same page. So what should this conversation look like and when should you have it? To find out, we spoke with several relationship experts and therapists.

How to identify cheating with your partner

Cheating can mean different things to different people. While some believe that it is only the fact that one person has been physically close to someone outside of their relationship is considered cheating, others have a much broader definition. As you can imagine, when people have different ideas about what constitutes deception, it can lead to everything from anger and frustration to complete rupture.

To prevent this from happening, you can talk with your partner about the different types of potential cheating to determine where you are drawing the line. Here are a few things to consider:

What is a scam?

Before we get into the specific types, let’s start with what cheating means. While there are different types of deception, categorizing a person’s behavior may not be as relevant as what those actions mean, according to Dr. Britney Blair , a San Francisco-based clinical psychologist and co-founder of Lover ‘s sexual health app. “I’m not sure labels are as important as the idea of ​​doing something that violates the agreement – verbal or unspoken – that you made with your partner,” she tells Lifehacker.

In a similar vein, Merlelynn Harris , marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Bridge Counseling Associates, categorizes cheating or affair as “any external behavior or entity that takes precedence and priority over a relationship [and] can be considered a crime. type of betrayal. “

Liz LeBlanc , psychotherapist and author of the Mental Health Recovery series explains that cheating occurs when a couple’s rules for their relationship are violated. “It really comes down to the boundaries that a certain couple have agreed to for their relationship,” she told Lifehacker. “What counts as cheating for one couple may not work for another, even in what might seem very obvious.” For example, LeBlanc gives the example of a polyamorous couple who may agree that it is okay to have sexual relations with other people if it involves agreement and honesty, whereas a monogamous couple may view this as the highest level of cheating.

Various types of deception

Similar to defining cheating, categorizing behavior into specific “types” of affairs — such as sexual, physical, or emotional — differs from relationship to relationship.


According to Dr. Pamela J. Lannatti , professor and director of the Widener University Center for the Study of Human Sexuality and an expert in sexuality-related communication, it can be helpful to think about “types” of infidelity in terms of a person’s motive to cheat. , including:

  • Opportunistic infidelity : the opportunity to cheat comes naturally, and you take the opportunity.
  • Romantic infidelity : You have feelings for the person you are cheating with, even if you may or may not have feelings for your partner.
  • Memorable Infidelity : Your sexual needs are not being met with your partner – think about dying in bed – so you meet them with someone else you really have no feelings for.

What is really going on

Lannatti says you can also categorize infidelity by what actually includes cheating, such as physical infidelity (including sex or other physical intimacy with an external partner) and emotional infidelity (when you have feelings for a person who is not your partner). There may also be situations where both physical and emotional deception occurs.

Lannatti explains that it can also be helpful to see exactly how the deception occurs or more detailed reasons for the infidelity. “For example, you might think of communicative infidelity, which in some way cheats with the intention of sending a message to your current partner,” she tells Lifehacker. “Or you can think more specifically about cyber infidelity, which is a type of emotional infidelity, that is, with someone you know and communicate with completely online. The bottom line is that infidelity takes different forms – for different reasons and for different reasons. “

Other things that are more important than relationships

Returning to Harris’s concept of infidelity – “any external behavior or entity that takes precedence and priority over a relationship” – it is important to note that infidelity does not necessarily include a physical, sexual, or emotional relationship with another person. “Anything that throws the relationship out of balance can be viewed as ‘another lover’ because you are giving all your strength to someone or something else,” she explains.

This can include workaholism (when a person is not available for family meals or intimate relationships, prioritizing work over anything else), as well as child-centered parenting, where a person loses their parenting identity and ignores or denies their intimate relationship, Harris said. Harris notes that it can also be the case when a person loses himself in a particular hobby. Some of the more famous examples of this include playing golf, video games, fishing, and watching football, resulting in the term “widow” for a man (often thought of as a woman) being neglected while his partner devotes his time to his partner. selected activity. (Although, to be clear, this type of deception is not limited to specific gender and / or specific activities.)

Why is it so important to identify cheating with your partner?

Given that there are certain implied or perceived boundaries around cheating – for example, sexual or emotional relationships – you and your partner may think that you are already on the same wavelength, but this is not necessarily the case. In fact, LeBlanc says this approach can easily lead to assumptions, misinterpretations, and ultimately feelings of resentment and betrayal if your idea of ​​cheating is very different from your partner’s.

“If you are planning to invest a significant amount of time and energy in someone, take the time to speak with them boldly,” explains LeBlanc. “Talk about your values, needs, insecurities, boundaries, etc. And ask about them. You don’t want your partner to give a completely different definition of cheating than you did a year after the start of your relationship, and because of this, he cheated on you all the time. ”

All too often, Harris said, couples are not aware of their expectations of each other until they are met, at which point they are already in conflict. “Each person needs to really think and make a list of their non-negotiable expectations so they can be accepted, challenged or discussed with their partner, and each person walks in with full awareness of what is acceptable,” explains Harris. “Too often people say what they think their partner wants to hear, like, ‘I don’t mind you watching porn,’ instead of their real expectations, and when the partner acted accordingly, they got upset. Transparency is the key to success. “

When should this conversation take place?

If you’re just starting a relationship with someone new, you might not want to talk about things like cheating right away, but you also don’t want to wait until it’s too late and something happens that makes one or both partners feel. devotees.

As a communication specialist, Lannutti advocates talking about important issues such as infidelity as early and often as possible. “I think people often worry that if they try to talk too early about expectations of exclusivity (or rejection) in a relationship, it could scare off the person they are dating,” she explains. “But I would advise such an important question, if you ‘scare them away’, it means that the relationship is doomed anyway.”

While LeBlanc says such conversations are not for the first few dates with someone, once you get to the point in the relationship where you feel like things are getting more serious, you will want to know if you have common values ​​when Speaking it’s about cheating and whether you can come to a clear understanding of what constitutes cheating in your relationship.

“It’s really about building a foundation of trust, understanding and opening the door to open communication,” explains LeBlanc. “Secrets, guilt, deceit and betrayal evoke feelings of disunity and resentment. Once that happens, the relationship will remain on quicksand, and there will no longer be a solid foundation on which to build healthy and fulfilling relationships. ”

According to Harris, these days, people prefer the games that usually accompany dating and want it to be intentional. “Put all your cards on the table first and be extremely honest about what you are looking for,” she advises. “If the person you are working with matches your level of commitment, they will live up to their expectations and you can avoid heartache and wasted time.”

Harris adds that waiting for a conversation about expectations until you get married and have a home and kids becomes extremely difficult because a lot of collateral is being put in at this point. “People say, ‘If you had told me this before, I would not have married you,’ and therefore the sooner there is a discussion, the better,” she says.

Finally, Lannutti notes that it’s important to remember that relationships have a lifespan and change over time, just like the people in them. “So, what worked for you and your partner in terms of exclusivity at the beginning of the relationship may not work later in the relationship,” she explains. “There are many models of healthy relationships that are not always based on sexual exclusivity.”

What should this conversation include?

It can be difficult to know exactly how to approach a topic such as cheating, especially if the conversation is with someone you still know. For this reason, Blair advises starting from the “positive” rather than the negative. “I would not recommend starting with the topic of deception, but rather talking about how you want to see the structure of the relationship and why you might feel that way,” she explains.

The question of monogamy

According to Blair, one way to start this conversation is to start by telling your partner that you prefer a monogamous relationship (if so) because it makes you feel a deeper connection with your partner. This at least opens up a conversation about each person’s preferences and, in turn, their perceptions of what constitutes deception.

Likewise, Blair emphasizes that we should not assume that monogamy is the default relationship format. “Monogamy – emotional or sexual – is a choice,” she explains. “It’s a very good choice for many reasons, but when it’s like a choice, it opens the partnership to a deeper level of intimacy, so you don’t lie to yourself or your partner that you’ll never want another person to do it again. the duration of your relationship. This is a harmful myth from our sex negative culture. “

Talking tips

As Lannutti mentioned earlier, she recommends starting this conversation early in the relationship so that you don’t start it the first time after you discover cheating. For this conversation, she has the following tips:

  • Before talking, give yourself time to think about what you like best about exclusivity. Ask yourself why you feel this way.
  • Don’t try to sneak up on your partner about the topic. Make it clear that you want to discuss expectations of exclusivity, and schedule a time for this discussion. Don’t try to shy away from it.
  • Make sure you are ready to not only share your thoughts, but also listen.
  • If you disagree, be prepared to make a relationship decision based on that disagreement. Again, this is an important issue that could violate the terms of the deal.

If you are having this conversation after the affair has occurred, Lannatti advises:

  • Wait to talk until you calm down to listen and speak in a way that doesn’t try to hit back at the person, but rather productively discusses your disagreement.
  • Conversation should not include: yelling, name-calling, hostile jokes, sarcastic comments, partner intimidation, partner violence and / or avoiding discussion of the problem.
  • Give yourself and your partner a chance to evaluate how much you appreciate what happened. This may be due to the motives behind the deception. Ask yourself if this can be passed. Keep in mind that many relationships do experience cheating.
  • Try to seek professional help while you and your partner cope with the consequences of infidelity.

This is just the beginning

Finally, just because you once talked to your partner about cheating doesn’t mean that the discussion ends there. “This conversation needs to keep going and pique the curiosity of the other,” Blair explains. “I encourage each partner to compromise and strive for growth, not list a set of rules that your partner must follow.”


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