John is a sales executive who travels frequently on business. On one recent trip, he met an attractive woman in the hotel bar where he was staying. One thing led to another, and the two wound up having a one-night stand.

When John returned home and spoke about the incident with his therapist, John denied that the fling amounted to infidelity. “One night stands don’t count,” John maintained. And he genuinely believed it.

Does this scenario sound absurd?  It’s not.

The Deseret News, the respected Salt Lake City daily newspaper, recently published results of a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted in March 2017 that found 27% of respondents – like John – do not believe one-night stands should automatically be counted as cheating.

The Desert News survey sought to understand what respondents do and do not consider to be infidelity.  Here’s what the newspaper reported:

  • 76% said yes, having regular sexual relations with someone other than your partner always counts as cheating.
  • 71% said yes, romantically kissing someone other than your partner always counts as cheating.
  • 69% said yes, sending sexually explicit messages to someone other than your partner always counts as cheating.
  • 63% said yes, actively maintaining an online dating profile always counts as cheating.
  • 55% said yes, being emotionally involved with someone besides your partner always counts as cheating.
  • 51% said yes, sending sending flirtatious messages to someone other than your partner always counts as cheating.
  • 37% said yes, going out to dinner with someone that you are attracted to always counts as cheating.
  • 23% said yes, going to a strip club without your partner always counts as cheating.
  • 19% said yes, watching pornography without your partner always counts as cheating.
  • 16% said yes, following an ex on social media always counts as cheating.

So wherein is the truth?

Was John the sales executive correct? Can he accurately say that he is one of the 27% of Americans who don’t count a one-night affair as cheating, and thus he has not betrayed his wife, Sue?

The reality is that if Sue discovers that John had a one-night stand, I very much doubt that she’ll be comforted by the survey results.

If infidelity is defined by the cheater – in this case John, then he is correct.

But the definition is not John’s to make. The only relevant question – the one that it seems the Deseret News failed to ask – is not how John views infidelity, but how John’s wife Sue views it.

Do 27% of the spouses/partners of men or women who engage in one-night stands also agree that such dalliances don’t constitute cheating?  If so, THAT is news.

Ask John if he thinks actively maintaining an online dating profile amounts to cheating on his wife Sue and I’m confident he’ll respond, “no.”  I’m not so sure Sue would agree.

I fear that surveys such as the one conducted by the Deseret News serve to support cheaters who can point to the results and proclaim, “I may be in the minority, but millions of Americans agree with me that what I did wasn’t an act of infidelity.”

The reality is, however, that if Sue discovers that John had a one-night stand, or has had multiple one-night stands, during his business travels, I very much doubt that she’ll be comforted by the survey results.

I’d like to ask John, assuming he is one of those who responded to the Deseret News survey answering that one-night stands don’t amount to cheating, if he would feel the same way if Sue had a one-night stand while he was away on business?  Again, I very much doubt it.

Setting aside questions of religion and morality, and turning strictly to evolution and our “hard-wiring” as humans, know that we are programmed to react with hurt, anger, and a feeling of betrayal when we discover that our partner is directing his or her romantic attentions on another person.

Infidelity is not what you say it is; it’s how your partner defines it.

Yes, there is a spectrum of such disloyalty – running from regularly having sexual relations with another to following an ex on social media. But a committed relationship is simply not healthy – or sustainable, when one partner acts in a manner that violates the other partner’s values and understanding of the rules of a committed relationship.

So what is the correct definition of infidelity? Can we find the answer in the Deseret News survey or any other like it?

The answer is simple. Infidelity is not what you say it is; it’s how your partner defines it.

And the time to ask your partner is before you act in any manner that could be interpreted as being unfaithful.

Do you want to sustain and preserve your relationship and avoid painful misunderstandings? Then have “the conversation.”

Ask your partner, ideally before you even become committed partners, for his or her honest definition of cheating. And share with your partner your heartfelt definition.

This is a conversation that must be honest and not governed by political correctness. It doesn’t make a difference how your friends, coworkers, neighbors or the media define infidelity. All that counts is how each of you defines it, sharing with one another the actions that would genuinely be hurtful to you.

If your wife goes to dinner with someone that she is attracted to, are you genuinely okay with that?  If not tell her. If your husband stays in contact with his ex on Facebook, does that disturb you? If it does tell him.

These are the conversations couples should have to keep their relationships strong and avoid very painful misunderstandings.

What the Deseret News or any other survey says about society’s attitudes is irrelevant. The only survey results that really count are those you and your partner provide to one another.