We talk a lot about the importance of trust and setting boundaries in a healthy relationship. Your boundaries help define what’s important to you and help you feel safe. It’s really important for partners to talk about and be aware of each other’s boundaries, and to be able to trust that the other person won’t cross or ignore them.
When certain boundaries are crossed in a relationship, it’s sometimes called “cheating.” What people consider cheating can be a range of things; it’s really about what each person considers a violation of trust and boundaries. You and your partner may decide that one of your boundaries is not seeking out or forming sexual relationships with people outside of your relationship. If that type of physical boundary is violated, it’s considered cheating.
Some people also believe that it’s possible for a partner to cheat emotionally. The idea of emotional cheating can be a little more complicated.
Emotional cheating implies that one partner has created and pursued a deep, emotional connection or emotional bond with someone who is not their partner by sharing certain things (feelings, activities) with them.
At love is respect, we hear from people who believe that their partners are cheating “emotionally” because they have deep or important relationships with others. This idea of emotional cheating can have strong roots in the belief that once someone has a romantic partner, that person should be the priority over everyone else and that relationship must be the deepest and most intimate. But this belief is problematic for a few different reasons.
To start, it is important to keep in mind that every relationship is different, and every person is comfortable sharing different things with different people. It’s healthy for people who are in a romantic relationship to also pursue and maintain deep friendships with others who are outside of the relationship. Depending on the person, that could be a great friendship with a co-worker, a strong relationship with family members or a friendly connection with a teammate.
In a healthy relationship, it’s totally okay for someone to prioritize different people at different times. If a romantic partner takes issue with this and believes that they must be the only deep connection in their partner’s life, that is a red flag because it can lead to behaviors that isolate their partner.
This belief about emotional cheating can also stem from jealousy or insecurity, as oftentimes some people don’t believe their partners should have any kind of relationship with other people they could potentially be attracted to (for example, a girl in a same-sex relationship might not think her girlfriend should be friends with other girls). However, trying to control who your partner talks to or spends time with is an unhealthy behavior that can become abusive.
A healthy relationship is built on trust, and trust is a choice we make.
We either choose to trust someone or we don’t. When trust is the foundation of a relationship, those who are in the romantic relationship believe that their partner will choose to respect the boundaries that have been previously agreed upon, regardless of who they are around. Jealousy and insecurities may crop up from time to time for some people, but they are not excuses to try and control what a partner does. If a romantic partner is using their personal insecurities as a reason to try to dictate who their partner is allowed to build friendships with, that is also a red flag.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable about something in your relationship, you have the right to bring it up in a respectful way. Try to use “I” statements (like, “I feel uncomfortable when…” or “I would like for us to…”) rather than attacking, accusing or making demands. It’s important for this to be a conversation; you and your partner should feel free and safe to express your feelings. It’s also important to think about and discuss each other’s needs and boundaries. Remember: a healthy boundary is one that protects and respects a person; an unhealthy boundary seeks to control or harm another person.
Both partners in a healthy relationship should feel free to live their own lives, and that includes having friends or forming emotional connections with other people outside the relationship. If you feel like you can’t trust your partner and need to check up on them, or if you feel extremely jealous of their friends and how they spend their time, then you may want to reconsider whether the relationship is right for you.
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