Among the many problems with the practice of infidelity, one of them is that it’s very difficult to define. For such a popular and modern taboo, the definitions of what is considered ‘cheating’ are still elusive and hard to pin down: what one person considers infidelity is another person’s harmless flirtation. The literature surrounding infidelity can’t seem to agree on a set definition either, and most research studies focus only on married, upper middle class, white couples.
The broadest definition, the one that suits most interpretations of cheating, seems to come from sex therapist Robert Weiss, who suggested that infidelity is a “breaking of trust that occurs when you keep intimate, meaningful secrets from your primary romantic partner”, telling MBG Relationships that the breach of trust is the root of identifying infidelity, the “lying, the secrets, and the newfound inability to believe anything the cheater says or does.”
In the 21st century, where technological advances have given us new and greater access to physical and romantic relationships, the boundaries of infidelity have expanded and the waters have become muddier.
“In the last few decades, especially since the advent of the Internet and then Internet dating, relationships have indeed become much more nebulous – there’s a lot more toing and froing with labels than there was ‘back in the day,’” said chartered psychologist Rachel MacLynn.
MacLynn, who founded matchmaking agency “The Vida Consultancy”, said infidelity in a committed relationship is not “a black-and-white, right-and-wrong tick-box scenario,” with technology changing what we consider to be a “relationship”.
“Dating apps illuminate to people just how much choice there really is out there, and that can be scary!” she said.
“If no label were put on the relationship, no official stamp of, ‘Okay, let’s do this – let’s be exclusive’, then there can be a lot of hurt stemming from miscommunication and misinterpretation.”
The evidence is there: A 2014 study from Missouri University found that those who were most active on Twitter were more likely to have “Twitter-related conflicts” with their significant others that led to infidelity and separation.
A similar study carried out on Facebook by the same researcher, Russell Clayton, found that the more time a person spent on Facebook, the more likely they were to have a negative outcome within their romantic relationships.
For all that the literature disagrees on – how to define infidelity, who is more likely to cheat between men and women- the one thing scholars concede is that communication is the bottom line; especially if one party is unaware they are committing emotional infidelity.
Indeed, communication is needed to fully understand infidelity in the first place.
US figures as early as 1999 estimated that 68% of women and 75% of men had committed some form of sexual infidelity, with more recent numbers from the UK stated that 45% of men and 21% of women had cheated on a partner at least once.
“The fact that we find these statistics shocking throws up a bit of a moral quandary” Maclynn pointed out;
“Why is it happening if we find it morally wrong?”