Stages of Cheating in a Relationship

Cheating is often associated with physical, intimate acts. However, a large portion of cheating partners never physically interact with their person of interest. There are layers to infidelity, and they can all cause damage for a relationship. In this discussion, we will explore various stages of cheating in a relationship and what to do in the aftermath.

Before the Cheating Occurs

Before someone cheats in a relationship, he or she becomes mentally detached from the relationship. This may happen consciously or subconsciously. The person may not be getting something out of the current relationship, so he or she seeks that missing element in someone else. Even if the act of infidelity happens unexpectedly, there is an underlying issue that causes the person to “check out.”

Types of Infidelity – It’s Not Always Physical

Infidelity does not have to involve a sexual encounter. That may be the end-result, but there are stages of cheating that occur well before a physical interaction. Here are some different types of infidelity:

  • Emotional Infidelity: One partner becomes emotionally intimate with someone outside of the relationship. This could be a friend, a coworker, a stranger on the internet, etc. Emotional infidelity is often more powerful than physical infidelity because it involves a deep connection, not just lust.
  • Micro-cheating: This involves small acts that may potentially cross the line of what’s faithful and what is not faithful. For instance, having secret flirtatious conversations with someone on social media could be considered micro-cheating. If these become persistent, they could also lead to emotional infidelity. Many forms of micro-cheating seem harmless at first glance, but they can lead to problems in the relationship.
  • Habitual Infidelity: For some people, cheating in a relationship becomes a habit. It may stem from a condition, such as sex addiction, or it may be learned behavior. Habitual infidelity can also come from a more complex underlying issue – self-destruction, adrenaline seeking, low self-esteem, etc.
  • Digital Infidelity: In this case, the acts of infidelity happen entirely online and through messages. Some forms of emotional infidelity are also digital infidelity. The conversations happen purely through texts and social media, but they do not involve sexual acts. In other instances, a person may interact with someone else through phone or video chat, but still never see the other person in real life.
  • Physical Infidelity: This is what most people consider cheating. There is a physical interaction with a person outside of the relationship. Physical infidelity is complex on its own, ranging from kissing to sexual intercourse.

As you can see, the types of infidelity often overlap. What is defined as micro-cheating or emotional infidelity for one couple may not be the same for another couple. At the core though, all forms of infidelity involve interacting with someone outside of the relationship in a secretive or subjectively inappropriate manner.

The Progression of Infidelity

Much like the stages of grief, the stages of infidelity are not always linear. For one person, it may be micro-cheating that turns into emotional infidelity, followed by physical infidelity. For another, digital infidelity may turn into physical infidelity. Someone who habitually cheats may go through different stages with each partner outside of the relationship. No matter what, an underlying issue sparks with the person or the relationship triggers a cycle of behaviors.

What to Do If You’ve Cheated or Been Cheated on

If you have cheated or been cheated on, there is still hope for your relationship. Continue to Part 2 to learn more about life after infidelity.

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