What Counts As Cheating in a College Relationship?

Cheating is an awkward and difficult situation to approach. But it’s harder when you’re not really sure whether it was even cheating in the first place. This is even more common in college relationships because they’re often more casual than relationships when you’re older. You’re just spreading your wings and trying to find your place in the dating world. In these types of relationships, what really counts as cheating? Before you decide to figure out if your partner is cheating, take these steps to settle your worries.

Really Think About What Makes You Uncomfortable

Each person is going to have different boundaries in a relationship. What you consider cheating may not be what others consider cheating. Is it cheating if your partner maintains a profile on a dating app? Is it cheating if your partner texts other people in a flirty manner? Some behaviors, such as liking a slightly risqué picture on social media, may be incredibly important or not remotely an issue, depending on the person.

You don’t need to write down a list of every single behavior that you would consider cheating, but it’s important to draw some general guidelines. In the physical sense, what counts as cheating? Consider the same question for emotional closeness and online presence. That way, you’ll at least have all your bases covered.

Temper Your Expectations

Remember that not every partner you have will probably think exactly the same as you do when it comes to cheating. Unless you’re in favor of an entirely open relationship and you only date other people who feel the same, you’ll probably have some differences between your expectations. You need to be willing to come to an agreement somewhere in the middle.

Determine what things are most important to you and what things you’re willing to work through. If you both have extremely strong opinions on certain behaviors that neither of you are willing to budge on, it might be time to move on from the relationship. This is another part of dating in college: it doesn’t mean that either of you are bad people, just that you don’t match quite right.

Talk Candidly With Your Partner About Boundaries

You don’t want to determine your boundaries and then just hope that your partner picks up on those boundaries throughout your relationship. Although it might feel a bit awkward, you want to talk to your partner about your boundaries as soon as things become “exclusive.” It might not be the right topic for a first date, but you should talk about it as soon as you feel like your relationship is a little more serious.

This also makes it easier if your partner does cheat later on in the relationship. If you don’t make your boundaries known early on, it’s easier to end up miscommunicating, which can unintentionally damage the relationship. Particularly unscrupulous partners may even use it as a way to turn things against you. It’s better for all involved if you just address it directly.

Maintain Your Boundaries Through the Relationship

Once you’ve set those boundaries, remember that it’s okay to stick to your guns throughout. Just because you’ve been dating someone for a long time doesn’t mean they’re allowed to do things that make you uncomfortable.

This doesn’t mean that you absolutely have to keep your boundaries the same as they were at the start of your relationship. You can renegotiate certain boundaries throughout the relationship. If your feelings change and you’re more comfortable with certain things now, that’s okay. Just don’t let your partner make you feel guilty for holding those boundaries.


There are plenty of ways that you can discover if someone is cheating. But it’s extremely important that you establish what is and isn’t cheating before any of these problems even come up. Before you start worrying that your partner is cheating on you, take a step back. If you’re willing to have a serious conversation with your partner about your cheating boundaries, the relationship will work better for everyone involved.