Here's Exactly How To Define Cheating In Your Relationship, According To An Expert

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Cheating means different things to different people, yet people rarely talk about cheating with their partners. Maybe we don't want to talk about it, since it's not a pleasant possibility to think about. We'd like to think our partners automatically know how to avoid all behaviors that may veer into cheating territory. But when you don't communicate, it's easy to get into that territory without realizing it.

It may seem pretty cut and dry whether someone's cheating or not, but people can't even agree on what cheating is. One survey, for example, found that 76 percent of women but only 59 percent of men thought sending flirtatious texts was cheating. Things get even fuzzier when you're in a polyamorous relationship, where you might be allowed to sleep with other people, but there may be parameters around it, like you need to use protection or talk about it first.

And that's just when you define physical cheating. Things get even blurrier when you start to talk about emotional cheating. "Some people believe that cheating only counts if there's physical intimacy — touching, kissing, or sex, for example," Erica Turner, MS, Resident in Marriage and Family Therapy and Director of Marketing at Group Therapy Associates, tells Bustle. "Others believe that cheating is not only physical, but also emotional intimacy — telling another person things you don't tell your partner, or allowing feelings for someone else to grow and develop."

Have The Convo Right After You DTR

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Even if it forces you to think about things you'd rather not think about, talking about cheating with your partner will prevent misunderstandings that result from defining cheating differently.

According to Turner, you should have this conversation as soon as you decide you're going to be exclusive. She suggests asking yourselves and each other: "What does commitment really look like? Which behaviors with others are appropriate and which cross the line? What kind of fidelity do I expect from my partner, and what I am willing to commit to?"

Don't Forget About These Topics

Some non-obvious topics you should cover include whether or not flirting's OK and what counts as flirting, what about your relationship and sex life is OK to share with your friends, whether it's OK to go to strip shows, whether it's OK to watch porn, and whether it's OK to be on a dating site (even just to look for friends). Another good topic to cover is how you'd expect each other to act if you were attracted to someone else, says Turner.

We'd like to think there's no possibility that we or our partners would cheat, but the truth is, a lot of people do — around one in five Americans, according to one survey — and it's not just bad people. "Most of the people we see in couples therapy essentially 'slid into' cheating," Turner explains. "They felt like something was missing or going wrong in their primary relationship, and instead of dealing with that, they allowed a friendship or interaction with another person to become inappropriate. This doesn't usually happen all at once, but over time it builds, until they have a physical and/or emotional intimacy with an outside person that threatens their primary relationship."

The more you communicate around uncomfortable questions like this, the closer you'll become as a couple.

The less you communicate about cheating, the easier it is for people to get into these borderline-cheating interactions that can slide into full-blown cheating. And the more you communicate around uncomfortable questions like this, the closer you'll become as a couple.

Pretty much any arrangement is valid, from just one person being allowed to sleep with other people to everyone doing whatever they want as long as they reunite at the end of the night. What makes it cheating is when it's not something both people agreed to beforehand. And the only way to know what you agree to is to talk about it.