'My boyfriend has been sexting women, but has never touched them. So, is it cheating?'

This week Kate* found graphic Snapchat messages to another woman on her boyfriend’s phone.

She felt the blood drain from her face. It had happened again.

“About two months ago a stranger contacted me with screenshots from her phone of an exchange she had with my partner the night before,” Kate wrote in an email to Mamamia. “It was similarly sexually driven and included graphic requests.”

Kate was “livid” and in disbelief. She thought of leaving her boyfriend at first, but then decided against it.

“I was also interstate for work so it was hard to get a feel for his honesty over the phone, and in the end I decided to accept he didn’t understand his ‘infidelity’.

“He also apologised profusely, promised it would ‘never happen again’ yadda yadda yadda.”

The crucial point, Kate says, is that her boyfriend didn’t have physical contact with any of them.

“It was absolutely not cheating. He even wrote that to the girl who sent me the screenshots.

“I believed him the first time because I get that we all make mistakes and I also wanted to believe he had different expectations… or something.”

But then it happened again.

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Last Saturday a “horrendously suspicious” Kate decided to snoop on her boyfriend’s phone while he was in the shower.

Her suspicions proved to be undoubtedly correct when she found a message that read: “My c**k is hard, I’m so horny right now.”

“I feel the blood drain from my brain, and I am emotionally paralysed even now thinking about it. What. The. FUCK. The dates went back to another time I was away for work – for three days!”

Kate says that when she confronted her boyfriend, he knew who she was talking about before she even said her name and he was upset, and apologised.

Now, writing to Mamamia, Kate wants to know what to do.

“I snooped and there are other girls listed in his ‘top friends’ on various social media outlets. Do I contact them?” she asks.

“Do I want to know more, to confirm everything or do I try to rebuild our relationship? Or… do I accept that this is part of our relationship?”

According to Sydney-based clinical psychologist Stephanie Allen, before Kate does anything else, she should stop for a moment to weigh up the situation.

Is it cheating? (Image via Getty.)

"I'd encourage her to take time to think about what she's going to do. To not make any hasty decisions. Because she obviously cares a lot about this guy and she needs to make sure she's not ending the relationship to end short-term pain."

"If she does decide to leave she knows it's a carefully thought out decision."

Potentially confusing the situation, Kate's boyfriend has (allegedly) never slept with or even touched the women he's sexting. She calls it "cyber infidelity". So does it still count as cheating?

Allen says what constitutes cheating is different for everyone, but essentially cheating could be any interactions with other people you hide from your partner and don't want them to know about because you know it would upset them.

"It's a real moral issue and everyone's got their own stance," the psychologist at Life & Mind Psychology says.

"(But) if they're doing something they're hiding from their partner, then what does that tell you about what they're doing?

"If he's not cheating then he would have told her about chatting to this girl. But he's been hiding it. If it's all above board you tell your partner about it, as a general rule."

Regardless, the behaviour is a definite betrayal of trust, Allen says. And while regaining trust is important, what's more important is understanding what led Kate's partner to sext other women in the first place.

pretext phone calls sexual assault
Stephanie Allen says Kate was completely justified in snooping.(Image via Getty.)

Kate's certainly baffled.

"I am sexy. I instigate sex all the time," Kate says. "I am diligent without being bothersome. I drink and get merry and do fun things with him all the time. I am a skilled professional, employed and certainly not unattractive. I am a f*cking catch."

However, Allen says there will always be a reason, even if the person cheating doesn't know what it is, though it's important for them to find out.

"If he says, 'well I really don't know why I did it' and she is considering moving forward with him in their relationship, he owes it to himself and her - and she owes it to herself and their relationship - for him to find out why he did it and how is he going to assure her that it's never going to happen again," she explains.

"He needs to work out why he did it and then tell her tangible reasons or evidence of how he's going to do something different next time and how it's never gonna happen again.

"Because otherwise he'll have every intention not to do it, but he won't have put enough in place to actually make sure he doesn't do it again - that's if she can move forward with him. And that's up to her."

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Allen further encourages Kate and anyone else thinking of taking back a cheating spouse to ensure they aren't the only half of the couple trying to make it work.

"I've got this sense that she's taking too much responsibility for the fate of their relationship at the moment," Allen says.

"He's the one who's betrayed her - no judgement - so he needs to let her know or prove to her he's committed to the relationship.

"The focus needs to be on what were the relationship issues that were going on for him that he didn't address with her."

One positive sign, Allen says, is that the man owned up to the explicit messaging when confronted. However, she says Kate is the only person who can know and decide whether to leave him or move on.

"Whether she can live with the fact that he's done that and move forward in the relationship, that's her decision. She's got to do what's right for her."

And as for whether she should contact the other women involved, Allen is clear.

"In terms of contacting any of the women, I would never encourage anyone to do that. I would just say keep it between you and your partner because that's really where the issues lie."

*Name has been changed.