Cheating. Pretty much universally denounced as the worst thing you could do in a relationship (maybe just a tiny bit behind murdering your partner). We can all agree that cheating is wrong and definitely nobody wants to be cheated on, but…

“But what?” you ask. But let’s be honest, so much of the media we consume glorifies cheating and we sing along or sit and watch and munch our popcorn. And who among us isn’t fascinated by the latest celebrity scandal of who is “steppin’ out” on who? Let’s get even more honest. Who hasn’t clicked on one of those, “6 Ways To Know If They’re Cheating” articles, you know, just to be sure…

We are simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by cheating. It’s one of the ultimate taboos, so we want to know all the details when it happens to our friends, but we really, really don’t want it to happen to us. Oh, but tons of people cheat. Tons and tons.

Statistically, it is very likely that it has or will happen to you. Sorry. (I’m going to assume that you want me to just skip the research-y parts here and just get to the parts that help you avoid being cheated on. I hear you.)

So you want to avoid being cheated on? You want to remain faithful to your partner and you expect them to remain faithful to you. Here is where I encourage you to start: Make sure you both agree on what constitutes “cheating” in the first place. A lot of what passes for “infidelity” is often caused by confusion and poor communication, not a lack of character.

Yes, yes, there’s the obvious stuff. I’m not talking about that. But what about not being honest about where you spent your time? Porn? Being connected to an ex on social media? Not being honest about how you spent money? Talking about problems in your relationship with an opposite-sex co-worker? Anonymous internet “stuff?” Texting with an opposite-sex friend or getting emotional support from one? Business lunches and gym partners you conveniently don’t tell your spouse about? All of this shows up on surveys of what is considered cheating. You and your spouse need to define together what “cheating” is to you.

So, yeah, you guys need to talk.

Framing The Conversation

So, you want to blurt out, “Hey, we need to talk about boundaries and what counts as cheating in our relationship!” But I’m begging you not to do that. Please. Just don’t. You’ll most likely get hit with a response like: “What? Don’t you trust me?” [And then in their head] Wait! Why are you asking? Should I trust YOU?

My advice?

The conversation about cheating doesn’t have to be about cheating. There are so many other ways to frame this conversation that won’t set off alarm bells and rattle trust issues. How do you have a meaningful, productive conversation about all the nebulous grey stuff in a way that draws you closer together instead of driving you apart by creating static and mistrust? 

Can you have this conversation without using words like infidelity, cheating, betrayal, or even trust? It’s something to think about…

Shift: From What You Don’t Want To Happen, To What You Do Want To Happen

You want to talk about growing deeper in real intimacy, cultivating mutual respect, making sure that you are meeting each other’s needs, making sure you are healthy individuals and a healthy couple, protecting your beautiful relationship, and building a lasting legacy together.

So, yes, at some point you have to cover, communicate, reach agreements on, and honor each other in the following areas: (Note: This is not an exhaustive list. You don’t have to talk about them all at one time, for all-time. This is a dynamic, ongoing conversation.)

Opposite-Sex Friendships

Phones, Tablets, and Technology

Honesty About Time

Emotional Bonds-Relationships

Time With The Opposite Sex – Gym, Etc.

Pornography

Texting and Social Media

Honesty About Money

Opposite-Sex Co-Workers – Meetings, Trips

Keeping Relationship Problems Private

Remember how you are framing these conversations. All of the above-listed issues and areas can keep you from being the individuals and couple that you both want to be. They have to be addressed – not because you don’t trust your spouse or partner – but because of the way they impede growth, intimacy, vulnerability, mutual respect, and the legacy you want to cultivate as a couple. Be ready to disagree but respect each other’s needs, and, above all, respect the relationship you are building together.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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