There are countless ways to cheat. That said, infidelity typically falls into one of three categories:
- Purely Sexual
- Emotionally Connected But Casual
- Deeply Emotionally Connected, Longer-Term Affairs
When asked what infidelity looks like, many people think of purely sexual activities lacking any sort of emotional component or connection. People who cheat in this way often think that because it doesn’t mean anything (to them) on an emotional level, it’s not cheating and their partner really shouldn’t care about it. I can promise you, however, that betrayed partners tend to view the situation differently.
Sometimes people who cheat in purely sexual ways don’t even classify their behavior as sex. They seem to think that penis into vagina penetration is required before an activity qualifies as sex and, in turn, as infidelity. They say things like, “If there is no vaginal penetration, it’s not sex, and if it’s not sex, it’s not cheating.” Once again, betrayed partners tend to disagree. As far as they are concerned, hand-jobs, oral sex (both giving and receiving), heavy petting, looking at porn, mutual masturbation via webcam, sexting, kissing, and even just flirting can and do qualify as cheating.
Emotionally Connected But Casual
Some cheaters have a string of casual sex partners (booty calls) that they see when convenient. They enjoy the company of these sex partners, perhaps even going to a movie or having dinner before hopping into bed. But there is not a deep emotional connection. Typically, these relationships are ongoing but casual in nature, based more on sex than anything else. Most likely, both parties are aware that the sex is not exclusive.
Deeply Emotionally Connected, Longer-Term Affairs
Some cheaters have a deep emotional connection with their infidelity partner. Typically, this type of cheating feels much more potent (to both the cheater and the betrayed partner) than casual sex or a string of booty calls. One issue is that when there is an emotional connection, it becomes much more difficult to break things off, mostly because the cheater cares about the affair partner and doesn’t want to hurt that person.
Making matters worse, more damage is done to the primary relationship through an emotional affair than a purely sexual affair because the more deeply a cheater connects with his or her affair partner, the more the cheaters moves away from his or her mate, both emotionally and physically. The longer a cheater engages in the play, the banter, and the fun of the affair, the more powerful and ingrained this shift becomes. As cheaters continually turn to the affair partner instead of their spouse for emotional intimacy, that connection feels increasingly meaningful, at times more so than the primary relationship. Often, betrayed spouses sense this distancing long before the affair is uncovered.
All Types of Infidelity Are Devastating
Generally speaking, a one-time lap dance at a strip club is much easier to forgive than a series of sexual encounters (no matter how casual) or an ongoing affair. That said, all types of infidelity are emotionally hurtful and damaging to the primary relationship. As a general rule, it’s not any specific sexual or romantic act (or acts) that does the most damage. Instead, it’s the loss of relationship trust caused by all of the secrets and lying that hurts the most. And that loss of relationship trust occurs regardless of the nature of the cheating.