Infidelity (also referred to as cheating, adultery, or having an affair) is the subjective feeling that one's partner has violated a set of rules or relationship norms and this violation results in feelings of sexual jealousy and rivalry (Leeker & Carlozzi, 2012). Infidelity is a violation of a couple’s assumed or stated contract regarding emotional and/or sexual exclusivity (Weeks et al., 2003, p. ix).
What constitutes an act of infidelity is dependent upon the exclusivity expectations within the relationship (Barta & Kiene, 2005). In marital relationships, exclusivity expectations are commonly assumed although they are not always met. When they are not met, research has found that particular psychological damage including feelings of rage and betrayal, lowering of sexual and personal confidence, and damage to self-image can occur (Leeker et al., 2012).
Infidelity is breaking a promise to remain faithful to a sexual partner. That promise can take many forms, from marriage vows sanctified by the state to privately uttered verbal agreements between lovers. As unthinkable as the notion of breaking such bonds may be, infidelity is common—and when it does happen, it raises thorny and painful questions. Should you stay? Can trust be rebuilt? Can you and should you forgive and move on?