What Counts as Infidelity?

We're all aware of the signs of infidelity: your partner spending a lot of extra time at the office these days; his or her appearance suddenly becoming very important; your sex life either dropping off entirely or going into overdrive. These are just a few signs of betrayal. While you by no means should get overly paranoid, keep in mind that 85 percent of women who think their partner is cheating are right while 50 percent of men who think their partner is cheating are correct. (By the same token, statistics show that up to 37 percent of men admit to infidelity compared to 22 percent of women.)

But what exactly does "cheating" or "infidelity" technically mean? Its definition is elusive because it really boils down to each and every individual. For instance, according to a survey on infidelity.com, 46 percent of men believe that online affairs are cheating. Some people may draw the line at intercourse, some at oral sex and others at simply kissing. "Kissing in a romantic, passionate way is an infidelity," says Dr. Shirley Glass, a Baltimore-based psychologist who has been studying infidelity for over 20 years. "People know when they cross that line from friendship to affair." Some people have such an open relationship, they don't care if their partner has sex, as long as he or she comes home and says "I love you and only you." Others, like M. Gary Neuman, author of "Emotional Infidelity," say that having lunch or a drink with someone of the opposite sex constitutes being unfaithful.

You get the picture - basically, what one person is okay with, another may not be. However, according to Dr. Glass, three elements of a person's relationship with someone other than their partner are needed to constitute an affair:

  • Secrecy: If one partner starts meeting someone, even just for a drink or breakfast, without telling the other partner, it spells trouble. "It is going to feel like a betrayal, a terrible deception," Dr. Glass says.

  • Emotional intimacy: When a person starts confiding in a member of the opposite sex about the problems in his or her relationship, it disrupts the balance of emotional intimacy because the friendship becomes greater or stronger than the original relationship.

  • Sexual chemistry: The third element that must be there is sexual tension or sexual chemistry. "That can occur even if two people don't touch," Dr. Glass says. "If one says, 'I'm really attracted to you,' or 'I had a dream about you last night, but, of course, I'm married, so we won't do anything about that,' that tremendously increases the sexual tension by creating forbidden fruit in the relationship."

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