In the minds of most people, cheating is cheating. One person breaks the trust of his or her significant other by secretly engaging in sex outside the relationship, and that’s all there is to it. However, there are countless ways to cheat, and some can be more damaging to a primary relationship than others.
Typically, infidelity falls into one of three categories:
- Booty Calls
- Full-Blown Romantic Connections
When asked what infidelity looks like, many people envision sexploration – purely sexual activity with no emotional component or connection. Sexploration involves casual hook-ups, hitting the strip clubs, looking at porn, playing the field, anonymous sex, etc. Sometimes the people who engage in sexploration think that because the activity doesn’t mean anything to them on an emotional level, they’re not really cheating. In their mind, it’s nothing more than a fun and relaxing diversion from the stress and strain of everyday life, roughly equivalent to mountain climbing, a night at the casino, or a good shopping spree.
Of course, their significant others tend to feel differently. In their minds, a betrayal is a betrayal. Faithful partners, especially women, typically don’t compartmentalize sex and emotional connection the way that sexplorational cheaters do. As such, betrayed partners often struggle to understand how the person they love can mentally separate the two elements, viewing extracurricular sex as meaningless from a relationship standpoint. A cheater’s insistence that it wasn’t cheating because there was no emotional connection and, therefore, there is no reason for the betrayed partner to be upset just doesn’t register as valid to the cheated-on partner.
On the emotional connection scale, booty calls are a step up from sexploration, but they are still relatively casual. With booty calls, cheaters have one or maybe several casual sex partners that they see intermittently when convenient. These ongoing relationships are almost entirely sexual. There may, at times, be the occasional dinner and a show before jumping into bed, but the emotional intimacy is purely superficial with the relationship based more on sex than anything else. In some cases, there may be a light element of friendship, where the two parties know the basics about one another, but that’s about it. And usually both parties are aware that the sex is not exclusive, and that one (or both) are in a long-term, supposedly monogamous relationship.
Booty call cheaters often try to defend their behavior with the same denial as sexplorers. “It wasn’t really cheating, honey, because I never for a moment thought of leaving you.” As with sexploration, in the eyes of the betrayed partner this argument fails miserably, primarily because a non-cheating partner is generally unable to separate sex from emotional bonding. The betrayed partner thinks, “You were having sex with him/her, and you did it several times (that I know about), so you must have felt some sort of attraction or connection that you don’t feel with me. Otherwise, why would you bother doing it?”
Full-Blown Romantic Connections
Full-blown romantic connections are exactly what they sound like, two people who feel love and an emotional bond engaging in an ongoing emotional and sexual affair. Interestingly, this type of relationship often happens unintentionally. Essentially, happily partnered people are simply going about their daily lives, being nice to others and making friends wherever they can without worrying too much about what those friends look like, and then suddenly and unexpectedly a platonic friendship blossoms into something more.
Typically, emotionally connected affairs feel more potent to both the cheater and the cheated-on partner. As such, the betrayal feels more severe, and more damage is done to the primary relationship. After all, this type of cheating involves more than just sex and secrets; there is also an emotional shift away from the primary partner and toward the affair partner. The more deeply the cheater connects with the other man/woman, the further away the cheater moves from his/her mate, both emotionally and physically. This is true no matter how strongly the cheater denies this. And the longer an emotional affair lasts, the more ingrained this shift becomes.
All Types of Infidelity Are Devastating
Usually, a one-time lap dance at a strip club is 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. That said, 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 the secrets and lying that hurts the most. And that loss of relationship trust occurs regardless of the nature of the cheating.