* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.
There are a lot of different forms of abuse in a relationship ranging from emotional to physical, from sexual to financial, and as a result it can be difficult to work out what actions your parner makes is defined as abuse and what is not. So Is Cheating Abuse?
Many argue that cheating counts as a form of emotional abuse, but doing something that can upset your partner is not necessarily ‘abuse’.
Defining abuse can be difficult but your partner can use cheating as a way to drive down your confidence and cause you emotional pain.
So, here are some signs to look out for when cheating can be considered as abuse.
Abuse Is A Cycle
One of the key defining features of abuse is that it happens again and again.
Even if your partner apologies and promises never to commit the abuse again – whether it was a physical blow or nasty comments – they will always do the same thing again whether it is the next day, week, or even month.
This means that when cheating is involved, frequent cheating can be defined as a form of abuse because even if they beg for forgiveness and promise to change, they will cheat again.
Sometimes, a partner can cheat, come clean, promise it will never happen again and it never will – but a partner who cheats again and again, no matter how many times they apologise and ask you to move on, they could be using cheating as a way to inflict pain onto you.
They Cheat Casually
Partners who cheat but try to hide it and keep their affair a secret from you are unlikely to be cheating purely to hurt you.
Abuse is a purposefully harmful and malicious act that is done with the intent of causing their victim pain, or to lower their self confidence to try and control them.
As a result, it’s unlikely that a partner who is having a secret affair is doing so to try and hurt you.
When a partner does cheat and does so casually, making sure that you are aware by rubbing it in your face, then this is an act done to hurt you.
This arguably makes their cheating abuse – because they have done it knowing that you will be upset and hurt by their actions.
This argument ties in neatly with how abuse is a cycle – if your partner goes out and cheats on you constantly and casually makes it known to you, or uses cheating as some kind of ‘punishment’ every time you have a disagreement, then this cheating is a form of emotional abuse.
How Your Partner Reacts To The Cheating?
Once you find out about the cheating and you confront your partner, how do they react?
Sometimes, the way they react to the accusation can really be telling whether or not they are trying to use the cheating as abuse.
For example, the partner could try and use this as a way to gaslight you. Even if you have all the evidence you need, they could still flat out refuse that it happened, turn it on you and say that you are ‘making things up’ or ‘seeing things that aren’t real’.
A partner could use this as a way to make you feel like you cannot trust yourself and that you need to rely on them.
This can happen when you find flirty texts, uncompromising images, or suggestive behavior when your partner is around others.
Your partner can try to gaslight you, making you think that you are ‘reading too much’ into their actions, as a way to gain control over you and make you reliant on their opinion.
Also, the cheating partner could try and blame you for their cheating. Some insults that victims of cheating hear is that they are somehow responsible for their partner’s cheating because of how they look or behave.
Your partner will try and deflect responsibility for their actions to try and get you to behave or look a certain way.
For example, a cheating partner may blame your weight for their cheating to try and force you to lose weight.
Of course, cheating is always the cheater’s fault, and they are in control of their own actions, but the way they deflect blame or responsibility when caught out can definitely be a form of emotional abuse.
Is Cheating Abuse: Final Thoughts
It’s understandable why so many people argue over whether or not cheating counts as emotional abuse because so many people cheat for different reasons.
Because of this, everyone has different experiences with cheating partners.
Sometimes, a partner can make a drunken mistake and come clean. Other times they want to keep their affair a secret to save their own reputation, but sometimes a partner can purposefully cheat and try to excuse their cheating by talking down their partner and gaslighting them.
This kind of serial cheating is the most arguable case for cheating being a form of abuse because some partners use their cheating as a way to inflict pain and hurt on their partners.
Some even do it to taunt their partners – knowing that they cannot leave due to isolation from others or financial abuse that has them trapped in this toxic, abusive relationship.
So, cheating can be used as abuse but only in certain ways.
If your partner has come clean about a one-night stand that they had and has apologized wholeheartedly and they never repeated the offense – then it’s difficult to argue that this one act of cheating counts as abuse.
However, frequent cheating, gaslighting, and verbal abuse blaming you for the cheating are all ways a partner can inflict pain and suffering though their cheating. This, in many people’s eyes, makes their cheating be classed as a form of abuse.
Overall, whether or not cheating counts as abuse comes down to the frequency of it, how it affects you, and how your partner reacts to being exposed.
Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation’s largest organization fighting sexual violence: (800) 656-HOPE / (800) 810-7440 (TTY)
988 Mental Health Emergency Hotline: Calling 988 will connect you to a crisis counselor regardless of where you are in the United States.
The National Runaway Safeline: 800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929)
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “HELPLINE” to 62640. Both services are available between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET, Monday–Friday
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Suicide Prevention, Awareness, and Support: www.suicide.org
Crisis Text Line: Text REASON to 741741 (free, confidential and 24/7). In English and Spanish
Self-Harm Hotline: 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)
Family Violence Helpline: 1-800-996-6228
American Association of Poison Control Centers: 1-800-222-1222
National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependency: 1-800-622-2255
LGBTQ Hotline: 1-888-843-4564
National Maternal Mental Health Hotline: 1-833-TLC-MAMA (1-833-852-6262)
The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678. Standard text messaging rates apply. Available 24/7/365. (Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning—LGBTQ—young people under 25.)
The SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline connects LGBT older people and caretakers with friendly responders. 1-877-360-LGBT (5428)
The Trans Lifeline is staffed by transgender people for transgender people:
1-877-565-8860 (United States)
Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net
International Suicide Prevention Directory: findahelpline.com
The StrongHearts Native Helpline is a confidential and anonymous culturally appropriate domestic violence and dating violence helpline for Native Americans, available every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT. Call 1-844-762-8483.
‘Find a Therapist’ Online Directories
- Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists
- GoodTherapy.org: http://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: https://aamft.org/Directories/Find_a_Therapist.asp
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- YourLifeCounts.org: https://yourlifecounts.org/find-help/