Though the term "cheating" may mean different things to different people, it usually involves a betrayal of trust. If you're wondering what behavior is considered cheating when you're married, follow your conscience and know your partner's boundaries. "We all have male friends and female friends, but there is a certain line that is drawn about what is appropriate and any reasonably intelligent person knows when it's crossed," says marriage and relationship counselor David Wheeler.
The most common definition of cheating involves some sort of physical sexual activity with another person. "Most say it's sex with anyone who isn't your spouse," notes journalist Michael Castleman in "Psychology Today." This strict definition, explains Castleman, doesn't account for other forms of intimate contact that some may also deem a betrayal, such as passionate kissing and sexual acts that don't involve intercourse.
Some may consider keeping secret emotional connections with others a form of cheating, even without any sexual contact. Psychologist Shirley Glass explored this topic in her 2003 book, "Not Just Friends." "The new infidelity," she says, "is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizng that they've crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love. Infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust." Allison Keating, relationship psychologist at Dublin, Ireland's bWell clinic, agrees. "Affairs don't have to be sexual to be destructive," she says.
The increased popularity of the Internet has led to another form of potential betrayal--online infidelity. "A cyber affair can either be a continuous relationship specific to one online user or a series of random erotic chat room encounters with multiple online users," explains Angelina Mao and Ahalya Raguram, from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences in Bangalore, India. Though people engaged in cyber affairs may never meet in the flesh or have any real physical contact, cybersex via webcams and instant messaging can cause real problems for some married couples.
Opinions vary dramatically when it comes to adultery and cheating in a marriage. Ultimately, it's up to you and your spouse to define your own boundaries. "Some couples don't mind a degree of flirting; for others, it might mean the end," says psychologist Keating. "But the point is that a couple tends to be aware of the values they have set up within their particular relationship, and they know when they are crossing the line."
Talk openly and honestly with your spouse, and don't be afraid to get professional help when you need to. A licensed marriage and family therapist can help couples work through differences, heal from betrayal and form stronger and healthier bonds.
Also, take time to enjoy life with your spouse. Pursue hobbies and learn new things. "When you have more interests in your life, you have less of a desire to find something exciting and taboo to intrigue you," says Steven Stosny, coauthor of "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It."