When infidelity is not black and white

Most people want or need their partner to be faithful, but what about the infidelities who are more controversial? In other words, situations where one of you feels you are cheating and the other doesn’t. Or one of you would feel like you knew about it, and the other is not in a hurry to have this conversation.

Most couples can agree that intercourse with someone else definitely breaks an agreement of monogamy. Making out with someone also pretty clearly means crossing a line for most people. The stuff that is easy to agree on is probably a pretty short list. Unfortunately, the possibly harder stuff is probably a much longer list. These are the activities couples are better off talking about than just assuming that they both feel the same way.

For example, how do you feel about these potential gray area activities?

  • Friend Exes on Facebook.
  • Find an attractive employee on social media.
  • Kiss the cheek of a friendly friend who you like (especially if you usually don’t).
  • Lunch with a potentially appealing friend without your partner.
  • Long text chats with a friend you don’t tell your partner about.
  • Share intimate details of your romantic relationship and sex life with a friend.
  • Talk to a friend about sexual fantasies and arousal.

How would you feel about these activities? How would your partner feel? Did you discuss them?

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Is it a slippery slope?

There are many activities that are not a problem in and of themselves, but some may fear that they are the first (or second or third) step towards something problematic. For example, talking excessively with a coworker about work matters can lead to conversations about personal matters that can lead to an emotional bond and, ultimately, an affair. (Or not.)

These are situations where these initial activities are technically fine, but intent is most important. Is all of these conversations about this killer work project just about the project, or is there an ulterior motive? Or does it start in one direction and gradually turn into something else? And be completely honest with yourself because sometimes we want to indulge in the possibilities without admitting what we are really up to. Your partner may notice how these work conversations seem a little more glossy, but couldn’t prove it in court. Intuition of a problem is all it takes – which also means that if your partner thinks there is some infidelity even when there isn’t, you have a problem to deal with.

The solution, easy to say, but harder to solve, is to avoid situations that might be tempting or lead to something tempting. It is also wise to avoid situations that might seem like bad intent, as there is no need to add unnecessary headaches. When in doubt, checking in with your partner for the first time and being transparent along the way can also help calm your partner’s fearful intuitions. When they bring up something, do your best to remain calm and hear their concerns without becoming defensive. If you’re the one with the uncomfortable doubt, then bite the bullet and bring it up with as little charge as possible. Focus on how you are feeling, not what your partner is doing, and don’t go too far beyond what you know to actually be true.

Get opinions, not votes

It can be helpful to speak to friends or family to see how they deal with such matters in their relationships. It can also be helpful to find out how you got to your current location. Was it easy and mutual? Were there any disagreements they had to fight? Were there any agreements that were violated and had to be addressed again? Most importantly, why do they have the agreements they currently have? Your experiences and ideas can influence your thinking or give you a different perspective.

However, others cannot vote on what is going on in your relationship. And you and your partner shouldn’t be deciding what to do based on what the majority of your friends and family are doing. You wouldn’t base your decision on whether to have your coffee black or with milk based on what your friends do. So don’t give them authority to make decisions in something as nuanced as fidelity. Every couple at this point in their relationship needs to figure out what works for them.

Copyright 123RF.

Source: Copyright 123RF.

Keep talking

Life is chaotic and complicated. There are many contradictions. Nuances can be difficult to sort through. Couples will face differences of opinion about each partner’s loyalty needs. There will be uncertainties, doubts, hurt feelings, accusations and requests. When you care about someone, it’s scary to think about losing them. So we have the right to offer protection. But establishing a relationship with a police state is neither fun nor a guarantee of safety.

So, from time to time, have these conversations about what you need from each other to feel safe in the relationship – especially at times when you don’t want to bring up the topic. Whether you are concerned about your own actions / feelings or those of your partner, these times are the most important. As uncomfortable as the conversation may be at this moment, it only gets harder the longer it is avoided.

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