What Counts as Infidelity?


I certainly don’t see it as my job to referee everyone’s relationship, but as a pastor and marriage teacher, I feel a sense of responsibility to weigh in on this important issue. In my experiences working with couples from all over the world and also researching what the Bible and modern research has to say about what makes a marriage work, I’m convinced that there are at least ten non-sexual forms of infidelity.

Culture might refer to these as “micro-cheating,” but I’d still just call it cheating. “Infidelity” just means broken trust and anytime you break your spouse’s trust it’s a form of infidelity whether sex was involved or not. Sexual affairs can certainly be the most devastating form of infidelity, but these ten forms of cheating can also be destructive. If ANY of these are happening (or being considered) in your marriage, please take immediate action before it’s too late!

Here are ten types of cheating that don’t involve sex (and how to avoid them all). Not all of these involve another person; some simply involve a failure of the vows you made to your spouse. All are different but all are potentially devastating to a marriage. In no particular order…

1. Constant criticism, neglect, or ANY form of abuse.

Abuse in marriage doesn’t always involve physical violence. In fact, the most common forms of abuse leave no marks on the body, but they leave deep scars on the soul. If your words to your spouse are constantly critical, you’re breaking your marriage vows and breaking your spouse’s heart. If you view your spouse as an interruption instead of a priority, you’re being unfaithful. If you mistreat your spouse, you’re “cheating” even if no sexual act of infidelity is involved.

#2 might seem innocent, but it’s very dangerous…

2. Hiding the fact that you’re married.

If you are intentionally hiding your status as a married person or you’re projecting “availability” through flirting, slipping off a wedding ring, acting single around your single friends or at bars, etc., then you’re WAY out of bounds. Those subtle acts of deceit are in themselves forms of infidelity even if they never lead to a sexual affair.

#3 can be SO harmful to your marriage…

3. Giving your primary loyalty to someone or something other than your spouse.

If you are giving your primary loyalty to your parents ahead of your spouse, you’re actually committing an act of infidelity. If you’re more concerned with your friends than with your spouse, you’re essentially cheating. If you’re consistently giving your strongest loyalty to your career ahead of your spouse, you’re being unfaithful. If we could grasp this responsibility to give our first and best loyalty to our marriage, our marriages would instantly and dramatically improve.

#4 might be the most common form of infidelity; and yet, most people refuse to admit that it’s wrong…

4. Porn, erotica and graphic romance novels.

When you’re acting out sexual fantasy apart from your spouse, it’s an act of mental infidelity. All true intimacy and all infidelity begins in the mind; not in the bedroom. If your eyes and your thoughts are wandering away from your spouse, then your heart is going to follow. Two thousand years ago, Jesus taught that “..to look at a woman lustfully is to commit adultery with her in your heart.” Don’t just be physically monogamous. Strive to be mentally monogamous.

#5 is something people often justify doing, but it’s destructive…

5. “Checking out” other people OR following an ex on social media.

I’ve heard people joke that, “Just because I’m on a diet doesn’t mean I can’t look at the menu!” Whether it’s an old flame or just a good-looking guy/girl passing by on the street, they’re usually referring to the idea that checking out someone is “harmless” as long as they look but don’t touch. What they fail to realize is that the very act of looking and lusting objectifies others, creates insecurity through unfair comparisons for our spouse, and subtly pulls your thoughts away from your marriage. Keep your eyes and your heart focused on your spouse!

#6 is the biggest enemy of intimacy in marriage…

6. Keeping secrets from your spouse.

In marriage, secrets are as dangerous as lies. Marriage MUST be built on a foundation of total transparency and trust. You must prioritize trust and transparency in the marriage ahead of your own personal privacy. Unless you’re planning a surprise party or hiding a holiday gift, there are no places for secrets in marriage. Anytime you’re having a conversation, making a purchase, sending a text message, doing an internet search, or doing anything else you hope your spouse never finds out about, your secrecy is actually an act of infidelity.

#7 needs to be off limits for a marriage to survive…

7. Threatening divorce.

Divorce has become far too casual in our society. We assume that the moment the marriage becomes difficult, it must mean that we married the “wrong” person and need to start over again with someone new. When we threaten divorce, we’re breaking the sacred trust that makes a marriage work. We’re saying our vows don’t matter and our commitment is conditional on our feelings. View struggles in your marriage as an opportunity to work together to become stronger; not as an excuse to quit.

#8 is an actual affair but it doesn’t necessarily involve sex…

8. Emotional affairs.

Emotional affairs often lead to sexual affairs, but they’re also an act of infidelity in themselves. They take place when we start secretly seeking the affection and attention of someone other than our spouse. They often begin innocently with a natural connection you share with someone at work (or wherever), but lines can be quickly crossed.

#9 is a telltale sign of a person who doesn’t know what it means to be a good spouse…

9. Refusing to admit fault or sincerely apologize.

When you refuse to admit fault, make excuses for your actions, blame your spouse instead of taking responsibility or fail to sincerely apologize, you’re committing an act of infidelity. Some of the most powerful and healing words in a marriage are, “I was wrong. I’m truly sorry. Please forgive me and give me the opportunity to rebuild the trust I’ve broken.”

#10 leads to so much heartache in marriage and it’s completely preventable…

10. Not showing up when your spouse needs you.

Your spouse should never have to face any struggle without your presence, your partnership and your support. When you said “I do” you were making a vow to be there for each other. To withhold your help or selectively choose your involvement based on your convenience is to communicate disloyalty to your spouse and to commit an act of infidelity. Our subtle forms of selfishness and abandonment can be some of the most destructive acts of infidelity. Always be there for each other!

If any of these negative actions are happening in your marriage, please don’t lose hope. Reach out to our amazing XO Mediation team for help!

Share this article: