How to deal with your partner not cheating, but 'crossing a line'

How do you get over something that’s not quite cheating, but still has an undeniable sting?

Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine denied cheating on his wife, Behati Prinsloo, but acknowledged that he had ‘crossed the line’ by speaking with women other than his partner in a ‘flirtatious manner’.

While few of us have experienced the specifics of this particularly wild celeb story (including Adam allegedly asking an Instagram model if he could name his and Behati’s child after her), many of us will have found ourselves deep in the grey area of not-quite cheating.

When you discover that your partner has ‘crossed a line’ – whether that’s sending flirtatious messages, failing to make it clear that they’re in a relationship, or being a tad too touchy-feely with other people – it hurts. But it can be tricky to figure out exactly how to feel – and how to proceed.

That’s because while clearly defined cheating tends to have an established roadmap (either you forgive and stay together or you break up), inappropriate behaviour that isn’t full-on infidelity is much murkier ground.

How upset are you even ‘allowed’ to be? Are you supposed to be grateful that your partner hasn’t gone all the way and strayed? And where do you go from here?

Let’s break it down.

Work out what it means to cross the line

The first tricky part of this tricky situation is working out exactly what crossing the line means to you. Where is the line? And how does it differ from cheating?

Only you can know the answers to these questions. And working out your own boundaries – knowing what counts as an issue that you can’t come back from and what’s a blip you can forgive and forget – is going to be key when it comes to knowing what to do next.

‘What crosses the line for one person may differ for another person,’ says relationship expert Ness Cooper.

Recognise it’s okay to be hurt

‘”Crossing the line” can be just as hurtful as cheating because it demonstrates that your partner is seeking gratification elsewhere, that they might be considering cheating or even that they might be preparing to do so,’ Rhian Kivits, a therapist and relationships expert, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Even if their intention was never to cheat, you can’t be sure of that. Besides which it shows that they were attracted to someone else to the extent to which they were prepared to disregard your feelings, take actions behind your back and potentially risk damaging your relationship.

‘This can be detrimental to your self-esteem, undermine trust and trigger feelings of resentment towards your partner.’

Why people ‘cross the line’

What makes someone behave inappropriately?

‘Some people are motivated to cross the line because they are fuelled by the chemistry of flirting, they enjoy the ego boost and they may get a kick from the adrenaline rush from the power they feel and the risk they take,’ Rhian says.

‘Online flirting and messaging can become a compulsive behaviour, and the roots of this problem lie in the individual having an imbalanced sense of self.

‘When this is the case, it’s a sign that they need to do some work on themselves. There may also be some deep seated issues to address, and co-morbidities like drug and alcohol use, and it can be hard to solve these alone.

‘I was interested that several women came forward regarding Adam Levine. I wondered if he has compulsive tendencies or a narcissistic personality that would lead him to disregard his partner’s feelings so blatantly and engage in repeated flirting with Instagram and OnlyFans models. As a high profile individual, with a lot at stake, he took a huge risk.’

Assess if you can trust that this won’t happen again

The natural fear when you discover your partner has broken boundaries is that they’ll do it again… or progress to ‘proper’ cheating.

Working out if this worry is likely to come true can start from the moment you find out what your partner has been up to.

Did they tell you the truth without prompting? That’s a positive sign that they feel genuine remorse.

Did they only speak up because they were exposed? That’s… not such a positive sign.

You can also look closely at how your partner discusses the betrayal.

‘There is a difference between feeling remorseful for the pain they caused you and feeling guilty for their own behaviour,’ says therapist Stina Sanders. ‘When someone is genuinely sorry they will not only apologise but they will detail what they’re apologising for and why this was hurtful for you to experience. They hold themselves accountable and take action to make you feel more secure and less hurt.

‘Your partner is also likely to be patient with you and understanding, they won’t tell you to “get over it”, they will listen and absorb the pain that you let out.

‘They will also be completely honest with you and show humility for their behaviour.

‘When someone is not genuinely sorry, they will show little to no accountability for their behaviour. They may even blame you, for why they did what they did.

‘Ultimately when someone is not genuinely sorry, they will continue their bad behaviours despite them saying they will change or adjust their behaviour.’

Rhian backs this, saying: ‘Signs a partner is genuinely sorry include:

  • taking full responsibility for their actions without trying to make excuses or invalidate your feelings.
  • being prepared to talk openly about why they chose to behave this way and what they’ve learned from the experience of being found out.
  • working hard to rebuild trust by showing that their attention is focused on you and the relationship.

‘Signs they’re not sorry include:

  • turning the situation around by blaming you for not giving them enough attention or sex.
  • telling you that it’s not that big of a deal because other people do the same thing and even making it a joke.
  • refusing to talk about it or getting defensive when the subject is discussed.
  • continuing to display tell-tale behaviours like hiding their phone, disabling notifications or staying up late using screens.

What to do if you’ve ‘crossed the line’

Rhian says: ‘If you have crossed the line and you know that it has the potential to hurt your partner and damage your relationship, then this is what I recommend:

  • Stop the behaviour, because it’s dishonest and risky.
  • Consider what motivated you and if you identify any issues that you need to address, work on them with a therapist.
  • Consider how you could tell your partner what’s happened and be prepared to talk about how you can make amends and move forward as a couple.
  • Continue to take responsibility for your choices and keep the lines of communication with your partner open so that you can work on rebuilding the trust.

Deal with the embarrassment

It’s extremely unfair that you feel embarrassed for being cheated on (why am I embarrassed when you did something wrong?), but it’s a very common experience.

It can feel like your partner’s misbehaviour reflects poorly on you, or on your relationship, and the shame that comes with other people knowing about your pain is super uncomfortable.

We’ve written about how to cope with this here.

Rebuild the trust

Okay, so you’ve decided this line-crossing is forgiveable and you’d like to stay in the relationship. Now it’s time to rebuild the trust.

Reassurance will be key, as well as clear, open communication.

‘Couples therapy is a good step,’ suggests Stina. ‘Especially if you feel communication is lacking in the relationship or if you are still grieving and need support during this process.

‘To move forward you both need to be honest and understand what both of your needs and boundaries are and what were not being met or respected.

‘By using open and honest communication you can both create transparency in the relationship.

‘When rebuilding together it’s also important to view your relationship as new and starting again.’

Have a chat about your relationship boundaries

Did your partner ‘cross a line’ because they weren’t entirely sure where the line was?

That’s unlikely to be a satisfying excuse, but it’s something to consider. To ensure this doesn’t happen again, you and your partner need to have a very clear, honest chat about what your expectations – and what you deem unacceptable.

Ness says: ‘Relationships have their own set of rules within their dynamic and some will have even discussed what these are.

‘Terms such as “exclusive” can also be an uncommunicated rule, where couples can presume that they are both on the same wavelength as it’s seen as common knowledge, but in reality they need to talk to each other about what it means to them both to fully understand when the line is crossed.

‘Only those within a relationship can define when the line is crossed, yet many aren’t talking about what that line is due to just thinking they both know.’

‘It’s really important to talk openly about what happened and agree the ground rules moving forward,’ adds dating and relationship coach Kate Mansfield.

‘Trust needs to be rebuilt and it might take time. Be open to exploring any buried problems in your current relationship. This could actually bring you closer.’

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