What Is Digital Cheating In A Relationship?

There's no one type of cheating. There is physical cheating, in which someone engages in some type of sexual act with someone besides their partner — that is if their relationship is monogamous. There's also emotional cheating where, while there may not be any physical contact, the person doing the cheating is emotionally and mentally relying on someone other than their partner and, maybe even in some cases, talking (read: complaining) about their relationship to that special someone else.

While some cheating may be black and white, a lot of it isn't. Is a quick kiss on the mouth cheating? Is crying to work husband or work wife, as they're called, about your relationship emotional cheating? It's all about where the line is drawn between you and your partner in what's okay and what's no bueno. "Cheating is pretty subjective and can be anything from flirting with someone who isn't your partner, to full-out sexual acts with another person," relationship therapist Jeanae M. Hopgood, LMFT, M.Ed., PMH-C, tells Mind Body Green. "Cheating is really anything that violates the boundaries of your romantic relationship and results in a breach of trust between its members."

But now that we're living in the digital age with texting and social media literally at the tips of our fingers, the rules of cheating have changed. For example, if you're in a serious relationship and send a nude to someone you randomly met via Instagram, but have zero intention of ever meeting them in real life, is that cheating? Or is it just the need to send someone a photo of your assets as a means to arouse yourself and, ideally, arouse them?

What does digital cheating look like

Digital cheating, also known as online cheating, can come in many forms. For example, most couples would agree that sending nudes to strangers, even if the photos are solicited, is cheating. Keeping a secret dating profile while in a partnership? Totally cheating. Engaging with sexting of any kind while in a relationship? Cheating.

According to a 2017 YouGov poll, 51% of respondents felt that sexting counted as cheating, 63% considered keeping an online dating profile while in a committed relationship is cheating, and 16% believe that even following an ex on social media is cheating. When broken down by gender, 70% of those who identified as female felt maintaining a secret dating app profile is considered cheating, compared to only 55% of males who felt the same. Although the poll didn't get into specifics, what can and can't be regarded as cheating could be easily cleared up if partners communicated their feelings on the topic early on in their relationship. The digital era has given us so many opportunities to get into trouble as far as cheating is concerned so not talking about boundaries and online cheating with your partner can eventually create some major problems. 

How to decide what's cheating

If you happen to be one of those couples who never discussed the parameters of what constitutes as online cheating, and then it happens ... it's hard to navigate how to handle it. Where does one even begin? People have different sets of boundaries, but no matter what those boundaries are, when they're crossed, they're crossed and it's cheating no matter how you slice it.

"The 'cheater' shouldn't be the one who decides what's kosher and what's not. To find the answer, look through the eyes of the hurt partner," clinical psychologist Janis Abrahms Spring tells CNN. "If your partner were in the room looking at you and feeling very uncomfortable with what they're witnessing, you might consider you're doing something hurtful or something that violates them."

Depending on the couple and the rules of their relationship, cheating can be very different from one person to the next. But because digital cheating has brought another component to the field of cheating, when it comes to having that fidelity talk with your partner don't disregard the digital cheating chat too. It's just as important as the other forms of cheating out there.