Cheating has long been a prevalent issue in relationships, but a new phenomenon called “micro-cheating” has emerged in recent years. This term refers to behaviors that toe the line of fidelity and can cause emotional harm to one’s partner.1 With the rise of digital technology and changing societal norms, this type of cheating has become a trending topic in relationship discussions.
Cheating is, unfortunately, common. 1 in 5 couples admits to cheating to some degree.2 Micro-cheating, however, encompasses a range of actions that blur the boundaries of fidelity within a committed relationship. A short list of activities would include:
- Engaging in flirty jokes and conversations.
- Creating a Tinder profile solely to gauge the number of matches and likes received.
- Investing extra effort in a personal appearance in anticipation of encountering a crush.
- Providing false information about one’s relationship status.
- Discussing intimate details about one’s sex life with a person other than their partner.
- Excessive texting throughout the day, often with an individual outside the relationship.
- Concealing a friendship from one’s partner.
- Expressing a willingness to date someone if circumstances were different, such as being unmarried.
- Creating opportunities or fabricating excuses to spend time with a crush.
- Engaging in sexting, including explicit language and sharing explicit photos.3
While these things do not involve physical contact with someone outside the relationship, it still constitutes a breach of trust, leading to emotional consequences for both partners.
Read: 5 Signs of Emotional Cheating in a Relationship
Gauging it All
Distinguishing this cheating from full-on infidelity depends on how these secret interactions impact the partner when discovered. The difference lies in the level of deception and the resulting emotional consequences.4 What may be considered infidelity for one couple could be labeled as micro-cheating or dismissed entirely by another. Ultimately, the core issue is keeping secrets and losing trust, which can lead to relationship strain and emotional damage.
People may engage in micro-cheating for various reasons. Some individuals seek excitement or extra stimulation, akin to ordering cheesecake for dinner instead of a salad. Having fleeting attractions or enjoying innocent flirting outside the relationship is natural as long as it remains within established boundaries. This activity becomes a problem when it involves intentional deception and compromises the emotional connection between partners.
The Wandering Eye
While having a wandering eye is common within relationships, micro-cheating distinguishes itself by how frequently and intensely one’s attention lingers on others. Research suggests that promptly averting one’s gaze from potential partners and devaluing their attractiveness reduces the risk of infidelity. However, maintaining open communication and prioritizing the emotional well-being of one’s partner is crucial to preventing any type of cheating and preserving trust.
The core issue with micro-cheating lies in the deception and betrayal of trust rather than the specific actions themselves. Betrayed partners experience emotional and psychological devastation as secrets and lies undermine the foundation of their relationship. Rebuilding trust after a breach becomes challenging, and studies indicate that individuals who cheated in previous relationships are more likely to repeat this behavior in subsequent ones. Similarly, those who suspect their partners of infidelity are also more prone to suspect future partners.
Addressing Micro Cheating
To navigate these problems in a relationship, open and straightforward communication is essential. Couples should strive for honesty, transparency, and non-reactive discussions. Strengthening the relationship hinges on eliminating lies and secrets. If a partner rationalizes this behavior or refuses to address the issue, seeking professional counseling may be a beneficial step. It is crucial to have a partner who respects boundaries, is honest, and prioritizes the well-being of both individuals involved.
While micro-cheating is a term that has gained popularity in recent years, its impact on relationships varies depending on the couple’s boundaries and definitions of fidelity. However, the central issue lies in the loss of trust caused by deception and secrecy. To maintain a healthy and trusting relationship, couples should engage in open communication, prioritize honesty, and address any concerns about the other’s behavior. By strengthening their connection and promoting emotional intimacy, couples can navigate the challenges posed by cheating and foster a resilient partnership based on trust and mutual respect.
Keep Reading: 8 Subtle Signs You’ve Got A Cheating Spouse
- “What is ‘micro-cheating’? And does it really count?.” NBC News. Vivian Manning-Schaffel. September 16, 2018.
- “1 in 5 Americans say they’ve been unfaithful.” Today. Peter Moore. June 2, 2015.
- “Is Your Spouse Micro-Cheating? Here’s What that Is and How to Know.” The Healthy. Charlotte Hilton Andersen. October 2, 2020.
- “How Partners Can Cheat Without Cheating.” Psychology Today. Robert Weiss Ph.D., LCSW, CSAT. July 12, 2021.