What is Infidelity?

Every couple, in the beginning of an intimate, committed relationship and hopefully before marriage, should have the infidelity discussion. And, out of this discussion should come a clear operationally defined understanding about what constitutes infidelity for the two of them.

It may be different for every couple.

Just to give a few examples:

InfidelityAt one extreme is the couple who may agree that anything short of actual intercourse outside the relationship is fine with them (unwise in my opinion) or another couple who agrees that anything is fine including sex outside the relationship (e.g., swingers, swappers, open-marriages, etc).

At the other extreme is the couple where nothing even vaguely sexual about anyone outside the relationship is allowed (so there can be no open discussions of “attractions” or someone coming on to either other one, e.g., at work)

This level of suppression, in my judgment, may also not be healthy. And then there is all the middle ground between these two extremes.

The most important thing is that both individuals’ perspectives are fully taken into account in forming a firm definition of what infidelity means in their relationship. Then it becomes important to strictly adhere to those views.

Anything that deviates from what was condoned by both is clearly over the line and “I thought it would be ok with you” doesn’t fly.

Don’t forget to discuss and define the important areas of emotional infidelity, internet infidelity, and other such subtle forms of behavior that can feel like a betrayal to one or both partners.

In other words, be explicit about everything thereby avoiding the incorrect assumptions and future pitfalls that may follow from implicit understandings.

It is never too late to have this discussion; all couples would be wise to take a few minutes to check out their assumptions and implied understandings about this issue. Another factor to keep in mind is that these parameters are not carved in stone and may change for one or both partners as life events unfold.

A person who just found out that one of their parents or their sibling’s spouse has had an affair might become much more sensitive about the issue than previously and these factors need to be taken into account and the infidelity definition amended accordingly. Thus, at any given time, both members of a couple has a very clear specific idea of what is ok to do and not to do in order to not cross the line into hurtful, wounding behavior.

There is more information available on this topic, if you still have questions not answered by this section please call me. I’m usually available within 24-48 hrs to answer questions, schedule phone coaching sessions or office coaching/therapy sessions, or direct you to other resources.

Judith Barnett

Judith Barnett, Ph.D, Clinical Psychologist, Marriage Counselor & Infidelity Specialist in Chapel Hill, NC
20 Years Experience


Completed Externship in Emotionally Focused Therapy, June, 2011

Services Available:

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