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“English words have no meaning unless used in their proper connotation”. These are words my dad gave me as an advice in the use of English words many moons ago.

Dad wanted me to learn the discipline of using appropriate words correctly aimed at avoiding confusion in verbal communication.

These words flood into my mind every now and then.  More so these days because of how many different cultures seem to be enmeshed in the borderless hyper connectivity of today’s world.  Ours is definitely a rapidly emerging global village accompanied by the linguistic invasion into traditional English words and their original meanings.

And so when Alice (not her real name) sat across from me and described a ‘delicate relational arrangement’ with a friend, I knew I was in for the long haul.

Although married for about 20 years, she recently ‘connected’ with this male friend. relationship_fightThey have been spending a crescendo of time together, she confessed. But before going on to relate to me the history and details of their activities during their times together, and as if to warn me to numb my sensibilities, she assured me that she did not think that she was cheating on her husband.

Wondering why she was would assume such a defensive posture, I asked her to back up a bit and answer a simple question.

“What is cheating?”

In an increasingly permissive society’s attitude toward sex outside of marriage, many people’s willingness to explore the boundaries of marriage, and acceptable routes to courtship, what exactly constitutes a relationship and cheating, for that matter is increasingly blurred.

For this reason, the cheating question can’t be adequately answered without first establishing a foundation upon which to build. In this case the kind of relationship in question.

Relationships marked by a certain kind of exclusivity, like in a marriage, engaged couples or even a boyfriend/girlfriend situation usually labeled as “going study”, are willingly entered into, and glued together by a commitment to stay loyal come hell or high water.

By virtue of this kind of relationship, automatic boundaries are created and can’t be violated without dire consequences.

These boundaries dictate that there are exclusive activities that can’t be engaged in with any other person for as long as that relationship remains active and intact.

The boundaries protect and preserve the integrity of the relationship on several levels including physical, mental, and emotional, ensuring constant nourishment and longevity.

HeartbreakCheating in its simplest form therefore, is crossing that line, stepping out of that boundary and secretly engaging another person in a similar relationship reserved exclusively in the first relationship. It always involves acting dishonestly to avoid being caught.

Often beginning with a thought, it is nursed secretly in the recesses of the heart and mind, and shows itself in several forms. It encompasses emotional attachments, characterized by vivid day-dreaming and evidenced by inappropriate behaviors on the internet, in text messages, secret phone calls and questionable rendezvous. It is not only limited to a physical act.

What to watch for here is, if you can’t openly discuss every detail of the ‘relationship’ with your partner, chances are it is inappropriate. You have crossed the line!

The meaning of cheating in the context of relationships has not changed. It is becoming more complicated because those who do it know they have crossed the line but become defensive by employing means to justify their wrongdoings. And when the lines that define the parameters are blurred, it’s a lot easier to justify ones actions.

So after Alice and I explored the type of relationship she committed to when she got married. It became crystal clear that she had crossed the line. Thankfully, the journey back to where she belongs started that same day.

It is unfortunate that something as simple as crossing the line has become such a complex thing in our world today.

In the end, Mr. Petraeus says it best. Every “affair” outside any committed relationship is a “colossal mistake”.