What's The Difference Between Infidelity And Adultery? - Exclusive

Men cheat. And women cheat. And there are a lot of subtleties involved in describing this type of behavior because everyone defines relationships on their own unique terms (via Verywell Mind). But whether you call it a fling, two-timing, or being unfaithful, the words mean roughly the same thing: the trust between two people in a relationship has been betrayed.

When asked to describe the difference between infidelity and adultery, award-winning marriage and family therapist Dr. Talal Alsaleem told The List, "Both terms refer to the same type of dynamic in which one partner violates the expected parameters of emotional and sexual exclusivity." He adds that the histories behind and the implication surrounding both words can reveal more about their meaning and ultimately affect the emotional outcome of the affair.

Cheating, for example, comes from a shortened version of an Old French word, escheat – "to 'deprive unfairly,' to 'deceive, impose upon, trick,'" notes Dr. Alsaleem. Extradyadic activity, what Dr. Alsaleem describes as "a wide range of behaviors occurring outside of a committed relationship," is yet another way to express these same kinds of boundary crossings. And like these colloquialisms, there are technical and intentional distinctions between the terms infidelity and adultery.

It depends on whether or not you put a ring on it ... maybe

In the way that all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares, so it is with infidelity and adultery. Infidelity — whether it's an affair, a side piece, or a one-night stand — is usually defined by crossing a line or breaking a vow in regard to the romantic or sexual relationship you're currently in (via Brides).

"Adultery," explains Dr. Talal Alsaleem to The List, "is often used to describe affairs involving married people whose marriage contract is both civil and spiritual." If the additional relationship involves one or married people, then the term extramarital affair aligns more closely with the definition of adultery (via Verywell Mind). In that way, all adultery includes infidelity, but not all infidelity is adulterous.

Don't let a marriage license be the only reason to claim the term adultery over infidelity. That's because, says Dr. Alsaleem, "the words we choose can set the stage for how we clinically conceptualize the affair and why it happened, which is crucial for preventing relapse."

What you do choose to say matters, especially if you want to repair the relationship

Dr. Talal Alsaleem tells The List that looking deeper into the origins of words can help the people hurt by the affair understand why it happened in the first place. While answering the "why" behind the infidelity may not make it any less painful, having an understanding of the situation and an agreed-upon definition of it can help relieve some of the stress (via Brides).

Embracing the word adultery, Dr. Alsaleem explains to The List, means acknowledging its definition: "to debase or make impure by adding inferior materials or elements." Dr. Alsaleem contrasts that with infidelity — "unfaithfulness or disloyalty to a person." Through that lens, "if I call it adultery," Dr. Alsaleem continues, "then the assumption here is that the motivation for the unfaithful was to debase the betrayed partner. Most of the time, debasing the betrayed is the byproduct of the affair versus the reason for engaging in it." Instead, Dr. Alsaleem opts to choose the term infidelity "because it doesn't pigeonhole the unfaithful in a rigid motivation for the affair."

In the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation, choosing language carefully can help facilitate healing, whether you stay together or emerge single. When you have a better grasp on the experience of infidelity, your confidence grows and allows you to decide what you want your future to look like.