I actually got this concept from a very old episode of Oprah. Basically what she said, is that it is cheating if you would behave differently if your partner were watching.
That is an excellent definition. For many people an affair means sex. But for other people an affair is anything flirtatious. For some couples, certain behaviors are totally acceptable, like going to a go-go bar, or flirting online in a chat room. For others, such behavior is cheating. Some couples have an open relationship where they can engage in extra-marital sexual situations, but many of those couples have their own rules, such as - no kissing, no friends, no second times.
It is important to make sure you and your partner agree as to what constitutes unacceptable behavior. What anyone else thinks should have no baring on what you and your partner agree to together. But it is vital that you and your spouse are on the same page where this is concerned.
So, you and your spouse agree on parameters for your own relationship. And your partner breaks that agreement.
TYPES OF AFFAIRS
There are many different kinds of affairs.
1 - There is the kind where something stupid happens without premeditation or thought. A bachelor party that goes too far. A drunken night in Vegas."Oops. Sex Happened. I didn't know what I was doing."
2 - There is the kind where it's all intimacy but no physical sex takes place. Affairs online are probably the most common type of affair. Workmates, partners, online chat-rooms... "Since I didn't actually have sex, it's not cheating."
3 - And then there is the full on affair: planned meeting, purposeful rendezvous. Thoughts, romance, sharing, talking, intimacy and sex, all taking place over a period of time. Premeditated. Lying. Everything. "This isn't just a sexual affair. It is an affair of the spirit, mind, and heart."
AFTER AN AFFAIR
Can you forgive a partner that violates the agreement you've made together regarding cheating? Can the marriage survive in a healthy way? That depends.
The first thing you really need to consider is, what kind of affair it was. Let's bluntly break it down.
1 - If it was an "Oops, sex happens" thing, I think from the three types of affairs I described above, this is the easiest to forgive. I'm not saying it's OK, justified, or acceptable on any level. I'm not even saying I would forgive it. But if anyone were to forgive any kind of cheating, I can understand this one the most.
In this situation, someone's head and heart can still belong to you. The flesh was weak. Stupid. Drunk. An opportunist. In a very general way, I can understand forgiving a mistake. 'Still not saying I would, but I can understand.
2 - If it were the affair I described in the second example, that's much more than "a mistake." It's purposeful deception. An affair someone has with a person online, or a coworker, or some situation where sex doesn't happen but there is an intimacy and sharing of emotions and thoughts, is a much deeper thing. The idea that your partner spent time with this person, thinking about them, planning to be with them, having conversations and secrets, laughing and crying... to me this is much more important than one drunk night where someone's pants fell off.
Another point to be made about this, is that there is no way in hell your partner didn't know they were breaking your heart. Whatever they say, whatever they claim, they had to know it was wrong or they wouldn't have kept it secret. You would have been included in those long conversations or chats, you would have been invited to those meetings, if there really was nothing to hide.
This is not only a betrayal of your vows and promises, it is blatant disrespect to you as a person. They cheated with their head and their heart. To many people, myself included, this is much worse than cheating sexually.
3 - The third situation I described above is the full fledged Affair. The whole big enchilada. Purposeful planned meetings, sex and intimacy, closeness and conversation... an Affair, that goes on over a period of time. The ultimate betrayal of every thing that should mean any thing to your partner.
Is it possible to forgive and forget that third example? That full fledged purposeful intentional affair of the heart, mind, and body?
I think the better question is, why the hell would you? Why would you even think about taking back someone that is capable of lying to your face over and over and over again. Why would you want to be with someone whose promise means nothing?
If this is where you are, you really need to ask yourself what the real reason is for you to even entertain staying married to this person.
If your reason is "for the children" please think again. Do you really want to teach your children that infidelity is OK, or that lying to people you pretend to love is OK? You aren't showing your kids what it is to forgive; you are only showing your kids what it is to be a doormat.
Any person who grew up as a child in a household that "stayed together for the children" will tell you what I'm saying. I promise - any one of them will back me up. Many books have been written on this subject, on the guilt those children feel when they grow up for the parent's being miserable, on the lessons they take away from living like that. It's the dumbest reason in the world to stay together.
If your reason to want to work it out is that you still love this person, think about what self respect means. Get a little therapy. Take a little time. Think about how this person treated you by lying and cheating. Love is hard, and most of us at one time or another has loved the wrong person. But spending your life with a person that clearly does not love you back is a horrible thing to do to yourself. It's a horrible lesson for your children. It's soul sickening.
Let's make this clear: You deserve to be loved. This person does not love you. No matter what they've said out of guilt or fear, they do not love you.
A HEALTHY EVER-AFTER
The healthy thing to do is not spend time and energy and heartache on a marriage that isn't worth it.
There are reasons as to why your mate cheated. Maybe you married young, maybe he has real emotions for this other person. Maybe she's fucked-up, maybe he's just a coward. Maybe the marital sex hasn't been all that. Maybe kids, finances, illnesses, work pressures, and a million other things are involved.
The problem isn't that "problems" cropped up.
The problem is your mate's CHOICE was to handle the problems by lying and cheating.
A person that promises their life to you, then chooses to be a coward when the going gets tough, is not a person you can have a healthy relationship with. This person demonstrated in the biggest way possible that they do not love or respect you.
Your mate should have come to you. There should have been communication and trust. If after real effort you couldn't work it out, then your mate should have initiated last resort separation proceedings. If your partner was that unhappy, they should have gotten out of the relationship.If they loved and respected you at all, that's what they would have done.