Defining Infidelity, Cheating, and Affairs

When you first discover your partner is addicted to pornography or another form of sexual behavior, you may begin to wonder what the next step for you or your relationship is. One of the most helpful things for both partners can be to establish some definitions. This helps both the sexual addict and their partner to get on the same page, and help the person addicted to sex or pornography understand why and how their sexual addiction so hurtfully impacts their partners.
broken trust

What is infidelity?

It may be surprising, but sexual addicts and their partners often define “infidelity” differently. Sexual addicts tend to view affairs as the only behavior that is infidelity; whereas their partners often include pornography, online sex, sexting, online dating sites, and strip clubs as betrayal. This illustrates the denial that is such a part of a sexual addict’s addiction and their oblivion to the pain infidelity causes their partners.  Too often, sexual addicts just do not see how 2+1=zero.  Three is always an unwelcome crowd for partners of sexual addicts, and learning how to remove “thirds” in all romantic relationships is possible.

For most partners of sexual addicts, infidelity is the act of breaking the trust in the relationship.  This is usually by the spouse or partner keeping intimate, meaningful secrets. These secrets can include what the addict is doing, how often they do something or the extent of problematic behavior.

For many betrayed partners, there is often no one specific act that is considered infidelity. There is no hard-and-fast line that they can point to and say, “That is the moment I was betrayed.” It is, instead, the broken trust in a relationship they thought was stable.  The impact of this new reality, for the partner, is immense pain and confusion.  Coeur d’Alene Counseling views infidelity as any behavior that breaks the marriage relationship’s ability to provide safety and security.

This emotional damage that occurs because of the addiction is what matters to the partner of a sexual addict, and the trust is what is lost and is what must be earned again, should they wish to save their relationship or marriage.

What is an affair? What is cheating?

Much like infidelity, in many instances, there is no specific act that can be pinpointed as the start of the affair or affairs. With the digital age, there are many “gray areas” that did not used to exist.  For instance, are using hookup apps, watching excessive amounts of porn, or using webcams for sexual purposes considered cheating or having an affair?  It’s just all in the digital world, there is no real person.  Right?  For most partners, however, it feels like betrayal and thus is betrayal.  Though there may be no specific act or person or persons, your partner may consider the loss of trust in the relationship as the betrayal.

Consider it another way: If your partner saw this behavior, would they consider it cheating? Many times, addicts may try to justify a behavior — “what my wife doesn’t know won’t hurt her,” or “since this is online and not in real life, it doesn’t count.” However, they keep their actions secret because they know their partner wouldn’t be OK with it.  Keeping these type of secrets lead to overwhelming unmanageability and more potential harm to the relationship.

Now what?

If you or your partner are looking for the next step, consider getting help from a qualified professional, either together or separate to begin working toward a solution. For couples in the North Idaho or Spokane areas, contact Coeur d’Alene Counseling today to set up an appointment.