Getting Real About Micro Cheating: What It Is, Signs and Coping

Adult couple in bed with man texting romantic messages

You and your boyfriend have a fight and you turn to a male coworker for consolation. Your girlfriend is out of town and you spend a lot of time talking and texting with a female friend. You may not consider these types of acts to be cheating, but they could be micro-cheating. This is a new buzzword to define a specific relationship issue that can be confusing and difficult to discern. Here's the lowdown on micro-cheating and how to identify the signs.

What Is Micro-Cheating?

Micro-cheating is engaging in regular, small but significant, actions with someone who is not your partner. Examples include:

  • Talking about your sex life with someone other than your partner
  • Contacting or maintaining a connection with an ex
  • Sexting with someone other than your partner
  • Flirting with someone else either in person or online
  • Spending a lot of time talking or texting with someone other than your partner

In other words, though it may not be a full-blown sexual or emotional affair, micro-cheating is partaking in small acts of a sexual or romantic nature with someone other than your partner. If it is just teasing or banter with a platonic friend, that would not necessarily be micro-cheating, especially if you can reveal to your partner that it is happening.

The main indicator to determine if you are micro-cheating is to ask yourself, "Do I feel guilty about doing this?" or "Would this bother my partner?" If you answer yes to one of these questions, it is probably micro-cheating.

Signs of Micro-Cheating

If you are wondering if your partner is micro-cheating, some indicators might be that they:

  • Spend a lot more time texting or on Facebook than they used to
  • Don't let you have the passcode to their phone, seem secretive or overprotective of their phone
  • Dismiss your concerns over how much time you spend talking with the person
  • Spend less time communicating with you
  • Are vague or evasive when you ask them about the person

Since the line between a friendship and micro-cheating can be blurry, it can be hard to know exactly if the reason that your partner is texting someone is just a friendly exchange. For instance, a co-worker of the opposite sex might have questions about purchasing a home that your partner is helping them with. If you ask your partner about it, they would be able to be open with you about their interactions with this other person.

Is Micro-Cheating Bad?

Every relationship is unique with its own dynamics and boundaries. It is possible that a couple has an agreement that each of them can flirt with others because it helps them feel like they are still attractive to others, leading to maintaining some excitement in their relationship.

On the other hand, the main problem micro-cheating presents is that it can be a slippery slope toward sexual or emotional infidelity. This is because you are fostering a connection with this other person that is more than platonic friendship. Oftentimes people don't plan to cheat on their partner but may "suddenly" find themselves doing so.

If you are in a committed, monogamous relationship, important issues should be addressed directly with your partner instead of with a third person. There should be a strong foundation of trust, so you have no problem giving your partner your phone passcode, because you have nothing to hide.

Micro-Cheating Is a Warning Sign

couple in bed under the sheets turning back on each other and looking at phones

Micro-cheating does not have to mean that your relationship is over. It is most often the sign of a larger problem such as a communication break-down or taking your partner for granted. If these larger problems are not dealt with, they are likely to occur in your next relationship. Moreover, these problems are going to occur if you do not do things to nurture your relationship.

After all, the spark between the two of you that was there when you first got together is probably not going to be there three years later. Maintaining love and excitement in your relationship takes action, such as surprising your partner with a kiss, giving them a small gift for no reason, flirting with them, and doing things that you know make them laugh.

The silver lining with micro-cheating is that it can be used as an opportunity to re-evaluate your relationship. Perhaps it is time to discuss the status of your relationship, if you still want to be together, or what your next step as a couple is.

How to Handle Micro-Cheating

If it looks like your partner might be micro-cheating or you suspect that they are, there are things you can do to initiate a conversation about it. It is important to:

  • Remain calm.
  • State the facts and how they make you feel. For example, "You seem to be texting Justin a lot lately. It's making me feel distant from you and that makes me sad."
  • Take turns speaking and allowing your partner to respond.

If you are the one who has been micro-cheating on your partner and you want to keep the relationship going, things you can do are:

  • Be honest with yourself and your partner about what is happening.
  • Be direct in talking with your partner. For example, "I've been flirting with Mary on Facebook and I feel guilty about it. I want to stop because I love you."
  • Be direct with the person outside your relationship with whom you've been communicating. For instance, "I know we've been flirting but we should stop because I have a girlfriend and I want to work things out with her."

If you need help communicating with each other, seek couples therapy where you can have an objective third party help you gain insights about your relationship and strengthen your communication with each other.

Keep the Flame Alive

You are not automatically going to stay in love with your partner just because you are in a monogamous relationship. Love is something you do, it's not just a feeling. The act of love needs to happen throughout the relationship for it to remain healthy and strong.

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Getting Real About Micro Cheating: What It Is, Signs and Coping