4 Stages of Cheating & When It’s Warranted.

Via Anna Jorgensen
on Mar 16, 2014
get elephant's newsletter


I’ve been on all sides of this fence (for the purposes of this post, it’s a three sided fence).

Admittedly, only once per side, nonetheless, I’ve deduced from these experiences that cheating doesn’t feel good and since my motto is: If it feels good, do it and if it doesn’t feel good, knock it off already, cheating is a ‘don’t do it’ activity.

Scenario 1: I was with someone who cheated on his partner with me (I was single).

The short story: I was in my early 20s, and although his girlfriend was a b*tch not fond of me, I didn’t do it because of her. I liked the guy. Note to the ladies: Don’t burn bridges. I didn’t muck around with her man because she was a Nasty Nelly, but it sure as heck didn’t stop me (then). Other gals will flat out go out of their way to bed a man if we get on their wrong side. I’ve also experienced mutual attraction with other “taken” men who I did not do anything with because I did like their woman.

Scenario 2: I was cheated on by my man.

I’m not sure if this is a true story, as I don’t have proof, and it’s actually happened to me twice (that I’m aware of) that I had a suspicion but will never really know. Both times, I was in mutually committed, monogamous relationships. Admittedly, the second time we were on one of our many break ups, and it could very well be that no physical lines were crossed while we were together, but I know that emotional lines were and inappropriate activity occurred during the time we were together. Thus, in my book, it was a Stage 1 cheat at minimum (Stages of Cheating to follow). Nonetheless, it crushed me. I also don’t know if I was more bitter about the cheating or the lying. Lying makes me pretty bitter.

Scenario 3: I cheated on my man.

We were together for too long and we weren’t meant to be forever. I became a Nasty Nelly, probably trying to give him a reason to punt me (he didn’t). The only thing left for me to do was the ultimate deal-breaker. I didn’t know this at the time. Hell no, it took me years of emotional self-torture, self-sabotaging, and painful guilt to figure that out. I can tell you unequivocally that being the cheater was by far more painful than being cheated on (maybe if he’d been a jerk I’d feel differently). Live and learn and heal.

Having gone through all of these experiences, I understand the weakness of the (my) heart (and loins). I have some pretty strict rules about what is appropriate now. I’m okay with that.

It’s not that I can’t trust myself, but why lead thee into temptation? I was always one of those self-righteous, disdainful, superior-attitude, judgmental I’ll never do that kind of critics. I only cheated once, but it only took once for me to say, “Hey, let’s not let that happen ever again.” And really, if we look at the stats, I’m not in the minority here. Judge not.

When Cheating is Warranted

It’s not. Cheating is never the answer; if only because it ultimately won’t make us feel good. We’re far better off to figure it out or part ways peacefully. Of course, that’s way easier said than done sometimes and all my experience and those of others will never replace your own experience. That’s how life works.

The Blame Game: We Lose

Also, never blame the cheater. Or the other person. No blame, or blame both parties in the primary relationship. No matter how perfect one partner may seem to be, it’s a two way street. Ladies, if we hold out on giving our man the cookie, we’re asking him to cheat (eventually). Men have very few needs (primarily freedom, respect, appreciation, food, sex) to be content, but they will even put up with a lack of most of those to a large degree if they’re getting sex gratefully. Put out (happily) or put up with a cheater. I’m aware this will ruffle some feathers. I’m not saying we can never say no, but I am saying we’d be best off to not use sex as a weapon or bargaining chip. As a bonus, working out differences between the sheets is a lot more fun for both team mates.

Ladies Doing Double Time

Now, as for the lady cheaters out there, of whom I know a few, they cheat (if it’s an ongoing thing) because their men don’t treat them right. This has nothing to do with sex because their dudes are probably still getting some from them. It’s usually more about emotional intimacy. There is too much to cover here, so my advice: Get a book, give a crap, and figure it out. One time lady cheaters: Either a cry for attention or a way out.

The Stages of Cheating

Stage 1 Cheating: Mutual attraction via eye contact, text, email, social media etc. (acknowledged or not, though at minimum, there is an awareness of it) combined with communication or activities we know damn well in our hearts we wouldn’t want our partner to know about or that we consciously justify to ourselves because it’s “innocent.” But we do know better. No physical lines have been crossed in Stage 1 Cheating.

Stage 2 Cheating: Mutually acknowledged attraction combined with inappropriate activities we damn well hide from our partner because our faces would say, “I want to have sex with this other person.” We’re floating a balloon, laying groundwork (pun intended), testing the waters, and maybe even lying outright to our mate. No major physical lines have been crossed.

Stage 3 Cheating: Any of the above plus a physical line of any kind has been crossed: Kissing, cuddling, hand holding, couch wrestling, straight up sex. We’ve got some serious sh*t to deal with. Hopefully we get forgiveness (from ourselves), fix it or move on ASAP.

Stage 4 Cheating: All of the above on an ongoing basis. We are having an affair. Bad dog! We will hate ourselves and eventually become ill. We are best off to seek a shrink, repent, or leave our partner because he/she deserves better, and really, so do we.

Any questions? Legs up!

P.S. There are complete books written on this subject, so to cover every aspect and nuance in a short piece herein will leave out many circumstances of infidelity, so to reiterate: This is based on my own personal experience, knowledge of others’ experiences, and the research I’ve done. Comments and alternative viewpoints are welcome!


Relephant reads:

The Infidelity Preventative.

Oxytocin: why Women can’t have Affairs.

Relationships: Why We Cheat.


Bonus! What to look for in the “one:”


Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!

Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons

Photo: elephant archives


About Anna Jorgensen

Anna Jorgensen Dating, love and relationship coach. A lumberjack's daughter, I spent my formative years surrounded by virgin forest and hungry grizzly bears in remote forestry camps. The crews were mostly hard-working, good-hearted scruffy men. There was plenty of naked-lady wallpaper, which explains my naughty sense of humour and understanding of how men think. (Hint: It's not only about sex.) In 2010, after several "practice" relationships (and a hella lotta "I need help" self-study), I rewrote my self and my life and now wear the cape as "Wingmam." Yay! My super power is providing one-on-one coaching and study-at-home-in-pj's online programs that entertain-ucate singles on how to understand the opposite sex, get unstuck, navigate the modern dating world and fast-forward to the fun bits of their happily ever after. (I don't ask anyone to use cheesy lines or made-up words like I do.) Love IS the answer, people! ;) Find Anna here: link to love and laughs. Connect with Anna's real, unfiltered Facebook page here (Love IS the answer!). Watch Anna's fun-ucational videos on: WingmamTV.


43 Responses to “4 Stages of Cheating & When It’s Warranted.”

  1. Sabina says:

    People cheat for a variety of reasons, not just because of a lack of sex. I also think your comments on what men 'need' are not quite so accurate. Men are complex human beings, not monolithic creatures who only need the things you listed.

  2. Amilla says:

    I completely disagree – for me, I'm happily married to my best friend, partner in crime, sex is fantastic; I met a man while I was cross country on business and there was this electric connection the moment we came into contact – I'm a believer that there is more than one person in this world for each of us (for one reason or another) and I didnt want to live with a "what if" in my rear view; passing up a moment to feel that connection that is so very rare. Fling was awesome and I don't feel badly about it of myself. It's my secret…and I like that.

  3. Amy E says:

    I am extremely opposed to cheating. It's been done to me way too many times. I am an extremely loyal person who prefers to greet issues head on. If one person feels the need to cheat, they have an obligation to discuss their feelings with their partner. Seek professional help if the two of you can't work it out together. Also, do you homework beforehand. Never marry a serial cheater, narcissist, or sociopath. I did. If you know you can't be faithful, don't have serious relationships. Be forthcoming about your views.

  4. shadowofeve says:

    I completely disagree. I do not believe women and men can be so black and white. We are all humans and there are different reasons why we might cheat. Women can be sexual creatures and even men can be emotional. Men are as complex and the little list you made to specify what you need to give your man is ridiculous. The statement "put out (happily) or put up with a cheater" is, in my opinion, absolutely false. Loved ones do not make their partner's cheat. People cheat because there is a problem in the relationship caused by BOTH individuals.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I think Ms. Jorgensen is very young. These are the musings of a 20 something. I suggest she re-write this article when she's 40. I'm guessing she'll have vastly different opinions.

  6. SweetC says:

    I kind of like how you put it into such a short article. It's true that it necessarily means oversimplifying things, but sometimes when you oversimplify you are able to see some things more clearly. I also am 43. I've never been cheated on. I've never cheated. I have been with men who were married. I met them on dating sites. Sometimes I knew they were married and sometimes I didn't.

    I think that you are right about not using sex as a tool for getting what you want. There was one man that I met that wasn't interested in cheating, he was only interested in having human connection with someone who actually saw him as having some value. His wife used sex as a way of putting him down just like she did in every other way. She made him feel like there was something wrong with him for even wanting sex, let alone for wanting to add variety. It is just plain wrong to use sex like this whether you are a man or a woman. If you are in a relationship that was understood to include sex from the beginning then it should continue to do so. This doesn't mean that either partner can't say that they aren't in the mood. It just means that it is reasonable to expect it to be ongoing. And when the woman (I have to speak from my own experience here) withholds sex without any reasonable justifying circumstance then she is going to drive him to look for it elsewhere. I believe that I would react in the same manner. So I assume that if a man withholds sex then it would probably drive a woman to look for it elsewhere too. Withholding sex is a form of rejection. If you don't feel like you want to be having sex anymore then you'd better be talking about it with your partner and with a professional if the relationship is something you want to hold onto because he needs to know why and work out if it's something he can live with if you aren't going to work to change it. I have concluded, too, that lots of times men cheat because they think it would be wrong to ask their wives to do certain things to add variety. Because they think of their wives as being "good" or "innocent" (yes, even after 20 years of marriage), maybe because they grew up together and they don't realize their wives tastes may have changed too. The funny part is that I'm not talking about outrageous sexual acts. Sometimes they just want to do it somewhere other than the bedroom. I don't get this because I think if he's bored she probably is too. In the end, people cheat because there is something wrong in the relationship. But we need to recognize that withholding sex is also a reflection of something wrong in the relationship. It reflects and imbalance of power and ya, I think you are probably asking for it.

    You''re right, though. Cheating doesn't feel good. When I knew I was with a married man I was always aware that this isn't the kind of man that I would want to be with. No matter how great they might seem otherwise. I'm not going to apologize for being with married men because I didn't set about to seduce them. They were looking, we found each other. It suited my purposes for a time because I spent the last year of my marriage in an open relationship and I needed to explore without entanglements and that is the kind of guy that was attracted to me on dating sites. It would be a much different thing if I sought to be with someone else's man and made it my goal to get him. I think I would feel a lot worse about that. The last married man I was with (knowingly) I felt kind of sick about it after. I know he's gonna keep cheating, but it just isn't going to be with me. So I'm done with that now that I am in a different place.

    Then there are the guys that just don't tell you they are married. It is a stinky position to put someone in. And in the end it is the lying that is the worst part. They don't understand why you are so mad at them because it's not like they cheated on you. But the thing is, I'm willing to bet, that the cheating isn't half the betrayal that the lying is from his wife's point of view either. You can forgive someone for cheating, you really can. But if you can't trust them again, forgiving them doesn't even matter.

    Now I have said more in a rambling comment on the thoughts this article put into my head than the author did in the article. I guess my point is that you made me think. And it was good.

  7. Polly says:

    Notice how no one had anything more to say after that?

    Thank you for your blog Anna. I think it was very real in many ways. Also, it is a shame that some things that probably should have been taken more figuratively or general were so literal to others. Any time people apply blanket statements with the intent of inspiring others, the audience should know there will always be exceptions and/or variances. But, as you say, to each one's own. For example, the list of men's necessities…obviously some humour, yet some truth. Some groups of ppl have tendencies of being more content with certain things…obviously, there are variances and exceptions.

    My husband is very happy when he has those things. Is that the extent of his needs, no. But we got passed all the rest when we courted…personalities, mental stimulation…everything checked out. With those things in mind, of course, i try to maintain in those areas on the list of commonalities provided above. When i do, he's a happy camper. Doesn't mean he's simple. I totally get it.

    Don't let them Debbie Down you. I love it!

  8. Urs says:

    Great article. For myself I have been in an open relationship for years and happy. Sexually we experience things together and or separate. For me Love and sex can equal making love, … but doesn't have too. It would be different if I felt my partner is playing with his heart…
    However, having been a child of parents who went through all your stages and having been sexually abused my experience in life has shaped my opinion very much and I'm aware that most people don't agree with that. Important for me is that I can always stand up for my actions and know what I do is good for me.

  9. ewa says:

    legs up!

  10. Kate says:

    This is a great article but I disagree with some key points. I am married to a great guy who treats me like a princess. I also have a long time boyfriend who is happily married. My relationship with him is passionate but in no way primarily about sex for either of us. He and I have loved each other for 30 years, my husband and I have been happily married for 12 years and he and his wife have been married for 20 years. We are both happy sexually at home and with each other. I know I have no guilt or regrets about our situation, nor does he. I think that human beings have the ability to love and connect with more than one person and just because we choose to build a life with one partner, it doesn’t mean that we can’t also share wonderful, physically and emotionally intimate love with someone else. I would not personally be comfortable with a casual fling, though I had a few of those when I was younger. But now I want my close relationships to be with people I truly love and who truly know my heart and soul. I fully anticipate both these men being in my life “til death do us part”.

  11. Branden says:

    Thank you for your writings. I'm am so thankful for reading scenario 3. I've only been in two serious relationships, and was cheated on during both. I never received a logical answer that I could accept until I read Scenario 3 of this article. Maybe its your style of communicating that helps me accept your reasoning behind cheating then the lies I've lost sleep over in the past. I hope you forgave yourself for cheating. You're probably too sweet of a person, but I'd forgive you. I look forward to your book. Cannot wait til you're famous and I get in line like a dork to get your autograph. I'm telling all of my friends to "like" your FB page and preorder "Me, A Rewrite.

  12. Stephanie says:

    I think this is spot on! Everyone wants to quibble about there being gray areas, and I think this is a pretty black and white subject. And even if people choose to be in open relationships, those usually have “rules” too, so not so gray either.

    You’ve obviously lived and learned. I have been #1, and #2, but never #3, as I have an overwhelming guilt complex and I’m honest to a fault. I also believe that all of us are capable of all 3 in the right circumstances, so I never for anyone for #3. I even knew when my ex cheated on me, resulting in the end of our marriage, that I couldn’t lay blame just on him and I had played by own hand in the end of our card game.

    I know what my deal breakers in relationships are now, and cheating is at the top of my list. I guess my motto would be, that if you don’t feel comfortable doing something in front of your significant other, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. Great piece!!

  13. Jenn says:

    Plain and simple as having been cheated on for none of the reasons listed more then once I refuse to accept that I am in anyway to blame unless you think doing everything for someone, and never withholding sex is a valid reason to cheat.

    I have never cheated and never will for any reason. And if someone intentionally goes after a person they know is married then they are just as responsible as the cheated. I have no respect for either.

  14. Jenn says:

    Plain and simple as having been cheated on for none of the reasons listed more then once I refuse to accept that I am in anyway to blame unless you think doing everything for someone, and never withholding sex is a valid reason to cheat.

  15. Stephany says:

    What about a more desperate scenario. What if a woman who has been domestically abused, gradually, for 12 years suddenly realizes she has been abused and reaches out to an old friend that had always had feeling for her and she him? She has no income (stay at hime mom with a toddler) and is given a choice to go to a safe haven with someone she loves rather than try to heal with no income and no emotional support. She was never the cheating type either…and even though the “plan” fell through she has absolutely no regrets about the trauma induced “no cheating” barriers. I guess it is really just all shades of grey and you cannot cover every situation in one article. I mostly agree with you, but life can be unpredictable and sometimes you just have to go with our gut and take it wherever it leads you.

  16. Carmelene says:

    There is no better road to intimacy than complete honesty. Thanks for your article.

  17. Nadyia says:

    First, thanks for your brave, honest post.

    I’m at a crossroads in my own life where I’ve both been angles of the “try-angle” you mentioned. I’ve also had numerous friends (of varying closeness) who have, of their own volition, been in extramarital affairs lasting anywhere from a long weekend to more than five years.

    As a result, I’ve had no choice but to transition my black and white sentiments of “once a cheater, always a cheater,” to be a bit more subjective and, perhaps, realistic.

    While reading about your experience of cheating on a man whose woman you detested, I crinkled my nose at first.

    “Ugh,” I thought. “Yet another instance of how spiteful and vindictive women can be to each other… and she’s justifying it!”

    By the time I got to the end of the article, I had set my own memory back in my triangle.

    I realized I did exactly what you did.

    He was the boyfriend (now husband) of my college roommate (who I loathed with a deep, cutting sentiment). To be fair, I wasn’t even that attracted to her boyfriend– I was turned on by the private vengeance I thought I was seeking through the act.

    It’s been a few years since that experience. Sadly, the immediate rush of “gotcha!” I felt from the dalliance lasted into my first few post-grad years.

    At the time, I didn’t have a boyfriend, let alone a guy around me I cared about enough to have someone else’s exchange with him throw me off course. But that changed after college, and, being in a relationship showed me a whole new perspective of the way women use their sexual prowess to show dominance/jealousy/power, et. al.

    Don’t get me wrong– Using men and sex as weapons is an age-old practice, as I dare say is the rush of power that tends to follow it.

    However, I try to use my experience with the “gotcha!” cheat to remind myself that, when you are tempted to use another girl’s man as a weapon against them, you better be prepared to fall on the karmic sword you can create in the process.

    So, today, I try to see the temptation of exploiting my sexuality as vengeance as a toxic act for two main reason: 1. The horrible karma I believe it creates; and 2. the antithesis of the woman I want to be.

  18. Lia says:

    I'm only sure about two things:

    1) Morality and right vs. wrong when it comes to fidelity are intricate subjects, but not every value system is okay. Deep down there *is* ultimately one right answer; we are often not perceptive enough or cognizant of the facts that would lead us to the truth. The true question is: "Does the truth really matter?" Too many people waste their valuable time on anger, hatred and trying to pin blame when they should ve doing what is right for their lives – and that applies regardless of whether the answer is to heal the broken relationship or move on.

    2) On the subject of fidelity, if you need to listen to a yoga teacher who has a few years of a very broken marriage under her belt and is trying to rationalize away the superficial and selfish reasons for cheating within the very narrow scope of her experience, you're probably doomed to the same dissatisfying and narrow experience. Listen to your heart and your gut, live in the present moment and be aware of the relationship you have now. That is your relationship : this moment. Not past promises or future hopes.

  19. Vance says:

    I was married recently and just a few days into my marriage, my new wife supposedly received a stalking call from a girl I knew from the gym. While I knew the girl for 4 years and did ask her to go to 2 events with me (a wedding and a friend’s concert), previously to being married, I did feel close enough to have sexual banter while talking to her. Never did I speak with outside the gym other than Facebook messaging over the 2 events. When this call happened, I explained the nature of the relationship. My wife proceeded to label me a Stage 2 cheater and and then began to scour my entire background to uncover some things from my past that I had never told her before marriage. Never did i think i had done anything wrong or was laying groundwork. The act of omission of my past classified me as a liar. What happened next were 4 months of living in a prison with my entire life monitored. All I wanted to do was love my new wife. Instead what I got was the accusation of gawking at every women who came into my view, so I started walking with my head down. I was still accused. I was under constant from arguing and she made threats if I tried to leave. It finally ended in a 911 domestic violence call where she spent the night in jail as I decided to leave. I believe she has this article posted on FB. I loved my wife. All I wanted was a happy life doing things with her. Now we are separated and filing for divorce.

  20. Vance says:

    SECOND UPDATE: My attorney rocks! I made an initial offer of $10,000 to my wife of only 4.5 months to go away. She countered wanting $21,500 of support. So my attorney went ahead and got the domestic violence restraining order. To avoid having that on her record, my wife asked how to avoid the hearing because she new it overwhelmingly in my favor. She wound up agreeing to pay me $7,500 for attorney fees and costs and walk away with a default judgment. I am still out over $10,000 in total costs because that whole payment will go to my attorney, but it goes to show you that justice for the man can be had. I still can’t believe my wife sabotaged the entire marriage though and still saddens and depresses me at times. I recently had someone ask me if I missed her. I said that I really miss the girl I fell in love with, but i wanted to destroy the person I was married to. There is still a part of me that wants to go through with the hearing and destroy her personally and professionally (like she often threatened me), but I am also ecstatic that the nightmare is finally over and the light is shining through.

  21. Andrew says:

    "Put out (happily) or put up with a cheater."

    Particularly the happy part. When love making becomes a chore, or you find yourself counting a sexual act as a favour, you are well down the road to losing your man. And yes, we can tell when you are phoning it in, and it adds up. It's not too much to ask, and as far as I can tell, the vast majority of men think that is part of the deal. Compared to women, we men are pretty simple creatures, but not stupid.

    As a 53 year old male, this doesn't read as the writings of a 20 something at all, but there is still much room for development of these ideas.

    Most people haven't taken the time to really think about all the culturally embedded ideas they have towards sex, and just inculcate them blindly. Religious ideas around sex particularly just don't bear much rational analysis.

    There is no 'black and white', everything is grey, and the getting of wisdom is in understanding that nothing is certain.

    The only thing I would strongly argue against is your stage 1 cheating. What you describe is normal human relations, we all do it, and those that don't are either cold stony fortresses or just don't see in themselves the same things that they judge in other people.

    Best wishes to all on your journey.

Leave a Reply