20/08/2015 2:00 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Modern-Day Infidelity: What Constitutes Cheating These Days?

Man with phone in bed, looking at woman asleep
Peter Cade via Getty Images
Man with phone in bed, looking at woman asleep

The Ashley Madison scandals, for many, challenge what it means to be unfaithful these days. What is infidelity anyway? Is it physically having sex with someone else who isn't your partner, is it touching or is it flirting?

Everyone seems to have a different definition or at least different boundaries when it comes to this word and it's one subject that couples will often not discuss when they enter a relationship -- what does cheating mean to you?

It sounds like something simple and something we would all agree on but it's the difference of the definition and boundaries that might bring us unstuck. And who wants to discuss infidelity if they don't have to?

But in a modern society, with more avenues to talk, connect and be intimate with another person, we need to look outside the bounds of traditional infidelity to determine where those boundaries might now lie. In order to redefine the definition, it is first of all important to look at one of the major reasons why people cheat.

Some think that cheating is just about sex, because someone has a high sex drive or is not getting enough at home. That might be a reason someone strays from their relationship but there is also a more common scenario -- emotion. Intimacy, connection and affection are things that, over time, can lack from a relationships and we underestimate how important they really are to our overall sense of well being.

If someone isn't getting these things from their partner, via easy and quick technology they are able to get these things from someone else at the click of a button. They might not be cheating in the physical sense, but if your partner is feeling connected, receiving affection and intimacy from someone else over the phone, a chat room, or an online website like Ashley Madison, how would you feel?

Are these things normally reserved for a relationships? Does your partner feel they need to hide these online conversations? One clue on modern infidelity is digital deceit. If one person in a relationship is deceiving the other as to their actions online, you might want to question if that is what it means to cheat in a modern, technologically advanced society.

So for those who might have only had a profile on Ashley Madison, or have just been talking to someone, should they be accused of infidelity even though 'the relationship' didn't proceed to a physical realm? That is something each individual needs to decide but it's important to point out that the intent was there and maybe even the emotional connection and affection. Is just having a profile on a site like this enough?

I don't suggest you should have the passwords and access to all of your partner's online accounts, but I do encourage that we need to be viewing such online behaviour as something more concerning and as a provider of clues into what might be lacking in our relationships.

We sometime believe that the online world is not the real world, but when it comes to modern infidelity, the damage online can still be real.


Dr Nikki's first book #singlebutdating is due for release through Random House from September 2015. Visit her website here.