Everything to Know About Micro-Cheating, Revealed (And What to Do About It)
Imagine scrolling through your Instagram feed, only to see that your partner double-tapped their ex’s photo. Perhaps you saw their texts, too, intrigued by a somewhat flirtatious conversation with their co-worker. Of course, you don’t know for a fact that they’ve been unfaithful, but for some reason, their actions still make you uneasy.
Well, there’s a term for all of this — it’s called “micro-cheating.”
As social media, dating apps, texting, and other forms of technology make it easier than ever to connect with other people, the scope of cheating is far more complex than just sex with someone else. In fact, micro-cheating encompasses countless other forms of betrayal that you may not be aware of — and while it may sound harmless, experts agree that it can actually be quite detrimental.
What exactly counts as micro-cheating, you ask? And more importantly, what should you do if you catch your partner in the act? Read on for some real talk on this super common issue in relationships.
What is Micro-Cheating?
One of the reasons why micro-cheating remains a gray area in relationships is that it can be difficult to define. Yes, micro-cheating is a subtler form of cheating, but don’t let the name fool you. These forms of infidelity can still be incredibly destructive.
“Micro-cheating is the act of blowing past the known boundaries of appropriate behavior for one in a committed relationship,” says NYC-based relationship expert and love coach Susan Winter.
While these acts may seem innocent to some, when someone feels the need to hide them from their partner, that’s a major red flag.
What Are Some Examples of Micro-Cheating?
There are several types of behaviors that can fall under the umbrella of micro-cheating.
One example, according to Klapow, is texting a co-worker about non-work related things. Going out with your colleagues simply because you know that a co-worker you’re attracted to is going to be there is dicey territory, too — even if you don’t plan to hook up with them, that’s still a form of micro-cheating because you’re intentionally seeking out opportunities to socialize and flirt.
Winter suggests that flirtatious or sexual comments on social media posts also count as micro-cheating. And while it may be normalized in today’s culture, posting super sexual or suggestive photos on social media — the kind that are obviously intended to allure and engage others — fit the bill as well. Lengthy DMs with a former flame, crush or total stranger can also be considered micro-cheating because these are the kinds of discussions that build emotional intimacy.
As for what it micro-cheating isn’t? Checking out a random stranger on the street, or following an attractive celeb on social media probably doesn’t count. While it’s totally normal to find other people outside of your relationship attractive, it’s acting on that attraction that becomes problematic.
Why is Micro-Cheating Harmful?
Sure, micro-cheating may not be as devastating to some people as physical infidelity, but it still puts the relationship at risk — in part because it can serve as a stepping stone to traditional cheating.
“It’s testing the borders of emotional cheating,” explains Winter.
And while micro-cheating doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will definitely cheat, it can escalate very quickly if the relationship is already in a vulnerable state.
“If there is conflict in the relationship, and one partner is attracted to someone outside of the relationship, they are going to be more tempted to take the ‘easy route’ to satisfy their needs, avoid emotionally charged situations and avoid the conflict,” he explains. “The result is an increased chance of cheating.”
Does the Definition of Micro-Cheating Depend on the Relationship?
Given that every relationship is different, one might wonder whether the scope of micro-cheating can vary. For example, couples who have an open relationship will have a different set of ground rules compared to a monogamous couple.
According to Klapow, the only thing that truly varies from relationship to relationship is the tolerance level for these forms of betrayal.
“Some couples may not be as turned off or frustrated by forms of micro-cheating while others are,” he explains. “Where it gets to be a challenge is when one partner is more tolerant (or less tolerant) of the betrayal than the other. When the definition and tolerance are not aligned, problems will occur.”
This is exactly why it’s important to have an open, honest discussion with your partner about what behavior you deem acceptable. Being on the same page about what actions are (and aren’t) allowed in the relationship reduces the risk that either of you accidentally betrays the other without realizing it.
What Should You Do if Your Partner is Micro-Cheating?
While it may feel awkward to confront your partner about their micro-cheating ways, experts believe it’s crucial to vocalize your feelings and concerns about these betrayals. If you don’t bring it to their attention, you’re doing both of you a disservice. Essentially, if they don’t realize how their behavior is affecting you, they don’t have an opportunity to make a change.
Now, how you bring up the topic is key. If you approach it in a way that sounds accusatory, your partner may feel attacked, putting them on the defensive. For this reason, Klapow recommends avoiding the word “cheating” or “micro-cheating” when you bring it up. Instead, just specify which behavior or behaviors are bothering you, along with why.
Don’t forget to listen, too. Pay close attention to your partner as they explain the reason for their behavior, as doing so can offer some valuable insight into cracks in the foundation of your relationship that need to be addressed.
“Catching these acts early, being consistent about calling your partner out on them and letting your partner know they are not OK with you gives you and your partner a chance to address small problems before they become very large problems,” notes Klapow.
The bottom line? A betrayal is a betrayal, and you deserve to be in a relationship where your personal boundaries are respected. If you’re uncertain about what counts as micro-cheating, ask yourself this: Is this something you (or your partner) would still do if your significant other was right there? Or would you feel ashamed if they witnessed it?
Asking that can help you to determine whether or not sending that text, leaving that comment or engaging in that conversation crosses the line. And if you discover that your partner has been micro-cheating, don’t panic. By addressing these risky behaviors early on, you can extinguish the spark before it spreads into a more destructive flame.
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