Is Texting Cheating?

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Hey Wendy,

So, I’ve been dating my boyfriend exclusively for six months now. We can’t see each other because of COVID-19. I live alone and don’t have any pets. I’m lonely, I’m isolated, and I’m eating and drinking more than normal.

Last night, after one too many glasses of wine, I started texting old boyfriends of mine. You know, just to say “hi” and ask if they were okay. Because I’d been drinking, some of the texts got a little sexual.

I’m now debating whether or not this is a breach of trust, and if I need to tell him. Is texting cheating? There was no phone sex, or photos or anything like that, just sexy talk.

Janice E.

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Hey Janice,

Cheating is when someone steps outside of what’s agreed upon in a partnership. Some consider sexy texting cheating. Others think it’s perfectly fine for their partner to have group sex with seventeen strangers in a big ol’ puppy pile as long as they share all the juicy details. It’s up to you two to define what is and what’s not cheating within the context of your relationship. What you might consider cheating he might not, so it’s important to talk these things through when you’re deciding what’s acceptable relationship conduct.

When you went from “newly dating” to “exclusively dating,” what did you two agree on? What did you decide “exclusive” looked like?

Did you mean you were both going to take your online dating profiles down and not date anyone else?

Does this mean you can’t flirt with that cute client of yours anymore? I mean, you’ve gotten great business from him partly because of your charm and extra friendliness. Does that count as cheating?

Does “exclusive” mean you can’t have conversations longer than 30 seconds with members of the opposite sex?

If one of you watches porn, is that cheating?

What about communication with exes? How does that factor in?

Some people only consider certain behaviors cheating if you’re hiding said behaviors from your partner(s), but if everything is out in the open, then it’s not cheating.

“I only want to date you, so let’s be exclusive” is the start of the conversation, not the end of it.

You asking me if you’ve cheated tells me that it’s not defined in your relationship. But let’s talk about what’s happening right this second, because look, these are extraordinary times. My hope is your guy would give you some leeway on this. I know I’d give you a big, fat pass right now if we were dating. Life is intense, and we’re all scrambling to find new ways of coping and connecting by the minute while the last set of skills are wearing thin. So you flirted with your exes, whoopsy! But will he see it that way?

I encourage you to manage your own decision—tell him, don’t tell him, that’s for you to sort. But whatever you decide, you two might want to have a deeper conversation about what cheating looks like, and what the ramifications are if one of you breaches the agreements you make. As in if you make a mistake, is it automatically game over?

Instead of having Relationship Rules, consider having Relationship Best Practices.

When you break a Relationship Rule, it’s broken, and the relationship is broken, and trust is broken. At best, this means a long, painstaking road back to almost-normal, and at worst, it’s the end.

When you establish Relationship Best Practices instead, the next time there’s a slip-up, you can look at the situation and say, “Yeah, I’m really sorry! That did not meet the high standards of our best practices. I’m better than this. I’ll do better next time,” and it’s done. You just have to make good on your words—otherwise those best practices don’t matter.

Good luck!