Technology can be amazing, but it can also put you in some tricky situations, especially if you’re in a relationship. This brings us to the all-important question that many people ponder: Is texting or chatting via social media cheating? And let us clarify: We don’t mean sending off a text to a member of the sex (or sexes) you’re attracted to and asking how they’re doing. We mean full-on flirting—or more.
Tech is a big part of our bonding experience with our S.O., which is why texting another person can be considered emotional cheating. Friends, acquaintances, and even past lovers can create bumps in an otherwise smooth path when they compete for one partner's attention. So how can you tell if you're emotionally cheating? We asked Susan J. Elliott, JD, M.Ed, and author of Getting Back Out There, to weigh in.
Meet the Expert
Susan J. Elliott, JD, M.Ed., is a grief counselor, attorney, media commentator, and the author of the best-selling book series and breakup coaching program Getting Past Your Breakup.
Read on for the three questions you should ask yourself when you're deciding how harmless those texts really are. Just remember that there is a fine line between being faithful and unfaithful, and every situation is different.
Is This Behavior You'd Do in Front of Your Partner?
Elliott says that the most successful types of couples follow this rule: “If you wouldn’t do it in front of me, don’t do it.” It's pretty safe to say that if you or your partner is sending a text you don't want the other person to read, you likely shouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.
Still unsure if your texts are considered cheating? Try flipping the situation: If it were the other way around, consider how your partner's actions would affect your feelings. A text on your S.O.'s phone that would make you feel uncomfortable is presumably one that doesn't belong on yours. “[The rule] leaves no room for gray areas or arguments,” says Elliott. “It’s a simple and time-tested rule that works.”
Are You Being Emotionally Unfaithful?
It's obvious that a physical relationship with someone who isn't your partner is cheating, but when it comes to being emotionally unfaithful, the boundaries can be harder to establish. Emotional cheating often happens when your relationship has hit a plateau or lost its passion, and you're looking for someone to confide in. You may miss that butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling you had when you were first with your partner, and texting someone else can make up for that lack of romance, whether you're conscious of it at first or not. Enter technology: When someone else is only a click away, it's important to think about your intentions. Does your relationship with the person on the other end of that text complicate your feelings for your partner? If so, it might be time to take a step back.
If you’re not sure whether your text conversations are pushing your relationship into that gray area, ask yourself a few questions: Do you share more about yourself with your "friend" than your partner? Do you ever complain about your relationship with your "friend" or feel that they understand you better than your partner does? You may be starting to develop an emotional bond with someone else that could put the bond with your partner in question. If so, treat this as an indicator that texting is turning into cheating. When you’re investing time and energy (and emotions) into someone who is not your S.O., you could be crossing the line.
“Your relationship should be a place where you find comfort and peace,” says Elliott. “Everyone has the right to go to sleep at night and not worry that their partner is in the next room playing virtual footsie with some internet hottie.” If your boundaries are feeling blurry, you're not alone. It all comes down to what you and your partner are comfortable with—and how you each define what you want from your relationship.
Is This Something You're Both Comfortable With?
We’ve already discussed the importance of setting boundaries in healthy relationships, and texting other people is no different. Every couple (and every individual who is a part of the couple) has different levels of comfort. “If you think that anything short of flesh-to-flesh sex is not cheating, that can be construed as a reasonable conclusion,” says Elliott. “If you think that even a small amount of flirtation through text is cheating, that is also a reasonable conclusion. Some readers may ask how both can be reasonable conclusions. The answer is that it’s what you can live with.”
It’s important to have a chat early on with your S.O. to set some ground rules as to what is and isn’t acceptable in your relationship. You might find that you have very different definitions of cheating or that only a few actions aren't viewed the same between you both. Regardless, if your partner feels uncomfortable about your relationships with other people, you could be setting yourself up for problems down the road. Your best bet is to try to rekindle your bond with your partner and distance yourself from the other person—just as you would in the case of physical infidelity.
Most importantly: Remember what you want in a relationship, and express that in your actions toward your partner. While no boundaries are exact, it's up to each couple to define their own—so consider your intentions before sending that text.