What is Cheating? A Couples Counselor Gives 5 Answers

Updated: May 8, 2020

By: Logan Cohen, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist - American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy Approved Supervisor - New Leaf Counseling Group, LLC - Charlotte, NC

Are you wondering, "What is cheating?" Well, you are NOT alone. Many People are asking this question because there seem to be many different answers depending on who you ask and what their experiences have been.

This question of, "What is cheating?" is a question I have heard over and over again as a Licensed Couples Counselor and Founder of New Leaf Counseling Group in Charlotte, NC.

When it comes to my professional work as a couples counselor through the years, I have grown to understand this area of work as an enjoyable area of intervention.

As a couples counselor with over a decade of experience, I have seen over the years that this is a "make or break time" for couples - with both opportunity to turn over a new leaf, OR fall into a trap that will keep EACH Partner stuck.

By the time someone in a relationship is asking, "What is cheating?", this is usually a sign that some problematic behavior has already happened, but is NOT "too late" to consider a way of healing from this experience.

What is Cheating?

#1 Answer to What is Cheating? - "Stepping out" of a relationship

By definition, "cheating" is when a Lover in a committed relationship steps outside of their committed relationship by giving "intimate roles" that are supposed to be kept inside the romantic relationship to other People who are outside of that committed relationship.

This might look like an "emotional affair" or a "physical affair" (more on the differences between these later), but at the root - involves the breaking of trust in a committed relationship. Generally speaking, I define this in couples counseling as, "when a Lover gives intimate jobs from inside the Partnership to outsiders".

However this happens to take place, it always feels like breaking trust to our romantic partner - regardless of the specific behavior that has happened. When this has occurred - whether or not anyone has openly asked, "What is cheating?", it is time to consider working with a professional couples counselor to heal before things get any worse.

What is Cheating?

#2 Answer to What is Cheating? - A symptom

By the time someone is asking, "What is cheating?", chances are that there is not only specific behavior in question, but also larger questions about the relationship and our place inside of it.

As a couples counselor, I often find that when both Partners are ready to heal from that experience, there is a LOT of opportunity for GROWTH because the behavior in question is only one SYMPTOM. By the time someone is asking, "What is cheating?", they have AT LEAST been thinking a LOT about someone OUTSIDE of the romantic relationship and that would NOT be happening if the romantic relationship were fully satisfying for both romantic partners.

When couples take the time to heal from an experience with cheating, this is more often than not a way to make the relationship ever STRONGER than it was before. This does NOT mean that the Person who stepped outside of the relationship behaved in a fair & respectful way, but it IS a sign that there is important work to do if the couple wants to not only heal, but have a chance to be in an even BETTER position with Self & Loved Ones than before the event(s) in question that have you wondering, "What is cheating?"

What is Cheating?

#3 Answer to What is Cheating? - TRAUMA

Many of the common outcomes of cheating - like flashbacks for the non-participating Partner - are typical of symptoms generally associated with TRAUMA.

Trauma is something that happens when we are VERY HURT and at the SAME TIME, unable to feel safe in our environment. Since Human Beings put SO much importance in our relationships to others and ESPECIALLY our primary sexual relationship, an experience with infidelity is enough to make the other Partner feel UNSAFE at a BASIC LEVEL with Self & The World.

These symptoms are NORMAL, however often misunderstood by both the Partner who has stepped out of the relationship AND the Partner who is traumatized by this behavior. When the couple makes the decision to work with a professional couples counselor who is well-versed in treating infidelity, it is expected that the symptoms of trauma will subside as the couple heals together.

What is Cheating?

#4 Answer to What is Cheating? - Intimate Physical Touch, from kissing to sex

To MEN, answers to "What is cheating?" are often ones that include PHYSICAL BEHAVIOR with a Person outside of the committed relationship. When we consider the forces of evolution, this makes sense because for Men, the physical act of sex is THE most important part of the interaction that will pass on our genetic code.

what is cheating?