VIDEO: What Infidelity Looks Like

All Types of Cheating Have This in Common

How do you define infidelity? According to sex therapist Tammy Nelson, author of Getting the Sex You Want, there are three qualifiers. There must be an outside relationship, a sexual element, and dishonesty. However, the degree of damage to the relationship also depends on how the individual participating in the affair reacts to their partner discovering their indiscretion.

“If the person has disclosed what they’re doing versus the other partner discovering it, there’s a big difference in how we’ll approach therapy,” she says.

Here, Nelson explains the difference between discovery and disclosure, and what it means for your work with couples recovering from an affair.

As Nelson goes on to explain, there are numerous forces shaping intimate partnerships today, many of which therapists didn’t learn about in graduate school. What we need, she says, is to update our conceptualizations of partnership, commitment, personal autonomy, and sexuality.

“Marriage can no longer be regarded as a constant steady state, without variables or changes, which we automatically fall into once we’ve said our vows,” Nelson says. “It’s a relationship that’s continually being renegotiated—even if we aren’t conscious of the fact.”

Rich Simon

Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day. 

Tammy Nelson

Tammy Nelson, PhD, is an internationally acclaimed psychotherapist, Board Certified Sexologist, Certified Sex Therapist and Certified Imago Relationship Therapist.  She has been a therapist for almost 30 years and is the executive director of the Integrative Sex Therapy Institute.  She started the institute to develop courses for psychotherapists as the need grew for certified, integrated postgraduate sex and couple’s therapists in a growing field of mental health consumers who need more complex interventions for their relationship needs. Dr. Tammy is a TEDx speaker, Psychotherapy Networker Symposium speaker and the author of several books, including Getting the Sex You Want: Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together (Quiver, 2008) and the best-selling The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity (New Harbinger, 2013), as well as When You’re the One Who Cheats: Ten Things You Need to Know (RL Publishing Corp., 2019) and the upcoming Integrative Sex and Couples Therapy (PESI, 2020). She can be followed on her blog,