Infidelity occurs when someone has an emotional, financial, romantic, or sexual relationship with someone other than one’s husband, wife, or partner in a monogamous relationship. Experiencing infidelity can be incredibly nuanced, painful, and frightening for any couple going through it.
Couples often disagree about what constitutes cheating, which is why we encourage couples to discuss this topic and layout expected boundaries earl on to avoid unnecessary heartache and grief.
Confusion also arises when trying to define the type of transgression that occurred. Does it “count” as cheating even if there was no sex involved? Is the point at which a partner “crosses the line” always clear? Is there one type of cheating that’s “worse” than others?
Traditionally, we recognize two main types of infidelity: physical and emotional. Both are considered forms of betrayal, since the other partner does not consent to nor is aware of the extra-martial interaction. Physical and emotional infidelity can occur separately or together, and often include one or more variations. Let’s discuss.
Physical infidelity involves any type of sexual or physical intimacy with a person outside the marriage. This includes penetrative and non-penetrative sex, kissing, and other kinds of romantically-loaded contact like sensual massages, hand-holding, and hugging.
This is NOT to say that a person cheats anytime they hug someone who isn’t their spouse. Context matters. Why did this hug occur? Is there a pattern of repeated physical contact with this person? Would that physical contact still have occurred if their spouse was present? If not, why not?
Signs Your Spouse is Cheating on You
Partners who physically cheat on their spouse may exhibit the following behaviors.
- unexplained marks or scratches on their bodies
- they may take a sudden interest in improving their appearance or grooming habits
- they may come home wearing different clothes or smelling like an unfamiliar perfume, cologne, or soap
- they may contract a sexually transmitted infection (and possibly pass it on to their spouse)
- they may insist on showering before touching their partner
They may also exhibit other signs of non-physical signs of infidelity, which we’ll discuss in the next session.
Emotional infidelity involves the development and pursuit of romantic feelings or emotional attachment with a person outside the marriage. Examples of emotional cheating include:
- confiding in someone about intimate details of their lives (and their marriage, especially)
- spending a lot of time communicating with that person (and often hiding this communication from their spouse)
- secretly buying gifts for or giving money to that person
- confessing romantic feelings to that person
- fantasizing about a life with that person
A person having an emotional affair may become secretive and protective about their phone; may exhibit unusual changes in their schedule, sex drive, or emotional intimacy with their spouse; and may spend a lot of time with their affair partner, or talk about them more frequently.
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They may also exchange sexually explicit or romantic content via text messages, phone calls, online chat rooms, or social media apps with someone outside the marriage. This is often referred to as cyber infidelity.
A few other variations of infidelity include:
- Financial Infidelity: being deceitful or dishonest about money, such as by hiding or lying about how much a person spends and what they spend it on; hiding or lying about how much debt a person has; secretly saving money
- Object Infidelity: developing an intensely consuming interest in something to such a degree that it causes one to neglect their marriage (e.g., having an obsessive interest in work, a hobby, a social cause, or a group, club, or organization)
It’s also important to consider that people don’t always agree about what “counts” as infidelity. Common examples are flirting or watching pornography: these are considered major transgressions by some individuals and perfectly acceptable for a monogamous relationship by others.
Ensure you and your partner are aligned ethically and clear about what actions are considered outside the bounds of your shared vows.
Healing From Infidelity: Get Guidance On Your Next Steps
If your marriage has been touched by infidelity, you’re probably struggling with the What now? questions.
Should we stay together?
Can we recover from this?
Is it possible for us to rebuild trust—and if so, how?
While challenging to navigate, infidelity does not necessarily spell the end of a marriage. Data suggests that around half of partners who have had affairs are actually still married. Of course, deciding whether to stay together or to separate after infidelity is a highly personal decision that every couple must explore and ultimately come to on their own. What’s right for one marriage might not be right for yours.
Marriage Counseling for Infidelity
If you and your partner are trying to heal from infidelity and need help figuring out where to go from here, marriage counseling can help. Contact The Marriage Restoration Project today to schedule an appointment or book a complimentary clarity call to learn what’s been going on in your marriage and how we can help you.