It’s no surprise we have some different views on the matter!

Where there are relationships, there are always cases of cheating. There is no culture, country or place free from this act. There are of course cultural differences in what is considering acceptable, as well as individual differences (surely you’ve had this conversation with your best friends, or maybe even your partner!), but what about gender differences? Do men and women agree on what cheating is or do we have slightly different ideas on the matter?

What is cheating?

It’s helpful to try to start on some common ground. With so many complex factors even this seemingly simple task but can be difficult. But let’s think of being unfaithful to your current partner. Whether through acts of physical intimacy (think the typical “it’s not what it looks like!”) or through acts of emotional intimacy (think putting excessive amounts of energy into someone outside the relationship).

We’re just going to be dealing with these two forms today, but of course the two are inherently interrelated. Even pure physical cheating leads to less time with your partner. And emotional cheating, even whilst it may never turn physical, means investing less time and energy into your partner.

There are also behaviors which are fall into the category of Micro-cheating. These are things like flirting, using a dating app and sending inappropriate texts. Things that straddle the line between appropriate and inappropriate.

What behaviors are specific to cheating?

This is a hard one to answer. Basically every person has a different definition of cheating. In 2013 the University of Michigan asked participants to rate various acts on a scale of 1 to 100 with 1 being not cheating. Except for sex (obviously!). All the other behaviors were rated differently depending on the individual. Meaning that there wasn’t any strong and consistent definition of what cheating is!

The study found cheating could encompass (according to the participants) anything from going to dinner with someone other than your partner, sending explicit texts, flirting with someone other than your partner, and grinding in a club. It’s a pretty wide variety of behaviors!

What do men and women think about cheating?

Well, the short answer is everyone’s against cheating, but men and women care about the type of cheating in different ways. For example, no one is ok with finding out their partner has been sleeping with someone else. But for many men the worst thing would be the physical intimacy of the act. Whereas for many women the emotional aspects and lack of honesty would be worse.

A 2014 online survey conducted by Victoria Milan (a dating site for people in relationships) found that 76% of women would forgive their partner for a sexual affair, but only 35% of men would do the same. On the other hand, only 30% of women would forgive their partner for an emotional affair. Whilst 80% of men said they would forgive their partner if it was an emotional affair but never progressed to the physical.

In short, women tend to think of cheating primarily as an emotional betrayal, wheras men think about it as a physical one, and this can be clearly seen in those statistics!

Why do people cheat?

Despite all the gendered differences above, the primary reason both men and women cheat is the same – they aren’t receiving enough affection in their relationships. People are looking outside their relationships to replace some of the intimacy and affection that they feel is lacking in their relationship and so they turn to other people.

Not loving their partner is not one of the key reasons people cheat. And in fact you tend to find that people do continue to love their partners even whilst cheating on them. Lack of sex also isn’t one of the main reasons people cheat on their partners. Most people rate lack of care and intimacy in their relationship as being the determining factor.

I’m currently in a relationship – how can we avoid cheating?

Defence is the best offence in this case.

Talk to your partner from the start about what is considered cheating and let your relationship be a place where both partners can be honest. If you or your partner are craving affection, an honest relationship where you can ask your partner to provide what you need and vice versa, means everyone is much more likely to stay faithful rather than cheat on their partners to try to replace that missing intimacy.

I think I’ve cheated – help!

Maybe this article has brought a new perspective to your behavior or maybe you always knew deep down that you were cheated on, or had cheated. So you’ve cheated. Now what?

This is a moment to be brave and front up to your partner. It’s not going to be easy, but many people find the lying is worse than the cheating. We all make mistakes, but lying about something for weeks, months and maybe years is particularly hurtful. Cheating doesn’t have to be the end of a relationship, and actually by coming clean the relationship may be more likely to survive than by keeping your secrets.

It’s not going to be easy, and it’s probably going to be the biggest test of your relationship – be ready to answer questions and give your partner the time they need to process the new information. But lots of relationships do and can survive and thrive after an incident of cheating.

The other option, chosen by 55% of people according to a study done by UCLA and the University of Washington, is to keep it to yourself. This is going to be a judgement call. Was it really just an accidental, one-time thing that means nothing to your relationship or is it something that you both need to deal with? Use your judgement wisely here.

I think my partner is cheating – help!

The other side of the coin is that you think you’re being cheated on. Maybe your partner is being particularly distant and secretive. Maybe they’ve got all these new hobbies and have started caring about their appearance, or maybe they’ve suddenly started caring about where YOU are all the time (so that the affair and you never have to meet). But whatever it is you’ve now got strong suspicions that your partner is cheating.

The first step is to front up and talk to them. There’s no point suffering ongoing anxiety. It’s going to be a difficult conversation to have, but be open to listening and seeing what they have to say. As with any difficult conversation, it’s best to choose a calm time without time pressure. Please don’t launch into it in the middle of an argument or when you’re super upset. You want to have an honest and productive discussion – even if they’re not cheating you are clearly feeling neglected so this needs to be talked about as well.

Final considerations

Cheating is a part of the human condition for better and worse. Setting boundaries and being open with your partner are the best ways to deal with it, both before it happens and if it does happen. Lots of relationships will continue after one partner cheats but not all. Sometimes leaving a relationship is the best option. This doesn’t mean your relationship wasn’t a success, just that it had run its course! 

You deserve to feel happy, loved and content in your relationship – that’s the ultimate measure of success.