When I meet with couples for pre-marriage counseling, we always go through specifically what is and is not appropriate behavior with the attracted sex(es) or opposite sex. Some people react that it’s obvious, right? The internet and smartphones have made it not obvious to many people at all. It used to be that an affair involved having a secret sexual and emotional relationship with someone besides a committed partner. Affairs normally started at work, and they usually started without any malicious intent or desire to start an affair.
The following is a list of conduct that a couple may or not believe to be inappropriate. This is not exhaustive, as the possibilities can change daily.
- Going to lunch alone with a coworker
- Going to happy hour alone with a coworker
- Having friends of the attracted gender
- Messaging exes on Facebook or Instagram (or whatever the latest social media is)
- Being social media friends with exes or certain others
- Confiding in a friend of an attracted gender regarding problems with one’s relationship
- Viewing pornography
- What counts as pornography (e.g. an old Playboy is perfectly fine, but something else maybe isn’t)?
- Chatting with random or known people on social media regarding sexual topics
- Interactive pornographic content
- Visiting a strip club
- Lap dances
- Just watching
- Going for special occasions
- Non-penetrative sex
- Having a secret dating profile “just for fun”, without ever meeting anyone
- Penetrative sex (some may be ok with this if in an open relationship with defined boundaries)
- Having people who are “just friends”, including the possibility of them being exes.’
A key determining factor can be whether a person’s partner would care if they were asked to or about any of the above activities. If there were a video recording and a partner saw it, would they care? If the answer is yes, there is probably something inappropriate going on or the start of something inappropriate. Some behaviors can be referred to as “micro-cheating” and could lead to something more serious if they do not stop. Sometimes what a person who feels betrayed wants more than anything else is just to know the truth. It can help set up the conversation if that is the case, and the person being asked questions feels safe to give honest answers. Conversations that start with “Tell me what you did, and it better not be [x]”, usually result in lies if [x] did, in fact occur. This doesn’t mean people shouldn’t always be honest, but they are more likely, to be honest right away if there is some sense of safety.