• Small actions or behaviors that skirt the boundaries of our relationship and test the limits of our partner’s trust are known as micro-cheating. 
  • When we know something will hurt our partner (i.e flirting with coworkers) and we do it anyway, that behavior is ultimately unhealthy for our relationship’s long-term health. 
  • A micro-cheater may be secretive about their social media accounts, consistently cross their relationship’s boundaries, and may also deny any wrongdoing. 
  • While infidelity of any kind is usually hurtful, men and women may respond differently to various forms of infidelity and its potential consequences. 
  • For example, men are more upset by sexual infidelity, while women are more concerned with emotional infidelity. 
  • When micro-cheating or other types of infidelity occur, couples can move through their feelings of shame and betrayal by seeking couples counseling, rediscovering their relationship’s roots, and remaining open to forgiveness (even if they don’t stay together).  

As the name implies, micro-cheating occurs when partners use small gestures or actions to engage with someone outside of their relationship in a flirtatious manner. Micro-cheating can happen when we cross the line with coworkers or friends, spend too much time secretly scrolling through our ex’s social media, or even when we fantasize obsessively about attractive actors. It might seem like micro-cheating is simply a romantic form of “wokeness”, but these small actions may slowly add up to trouble for any relationship. It’s not only that this sort of behavior hurts our partner and our relationship; micro-cheating, if done repeatedly, can be a sign that we’re not happy with who we’re with. 

Each relationship has its own expectations, which will change the definition of what counts as micro-cheating between those partners. We shouldn’t dismiss micro-cheating simply as hypersensitivity. If the roles were reversed, those who micro-cheat would most likely feel hurt by having their own behavior reflected back at them. In fact, people who commit forms of infidelity may actually feel insecure about being mistreated themselves.

While broadly defining micro-cheating is somewhat simple, personally identifying it in your partner’s or your behavior may take some processing time. Every relationship experiences fluctuating sexual attraction and levels of satisfaction that will wax and wane. As the old saying goes, “change is the only constant.” As with other forms of infidelity, micro-cheating can present a challenge for couples, creating anxiety, stress, and even PTSD. For those who are micro-cheating, as well as those whose partner is micro-cheating, it’s wise to examine whether you can resolve the distance between you through counseling, forgiveness, and a rediscovery of your relationship’s roots. 

3 Indications of Micro-cheating

Because micro-cheating often occurs where and when it’s most convenient for us (thanks to the proximity principle), look out for temptation to occur at work, on social media platforms, or within friend circles. Because micro-cheaters are often unhappy in their relationship (but may feel too insecure to leave), those who are with them are at risk of being hurt in the long run. Some classic signs of a partner who’s micro-cheating include: 

  1. Being secretive with their social media use: Following their exes, spending excessive time on apps instead of connecting with you, or leaving flirtatious comments on other people’s posts are definite red flags. Even routinely obsessing over celebrities’ physical features or posts can be a sign that someone isn’t interested in their relationship (or you). 
  2. Crossing boundaries (in small but notable ways) with people outside your relationship: Maybe they always laugh a little too hard at your best friend’s jokes while touching their shoulder. Perhaps that heart-felt comment they left on their ex’s photo seemed odd. Though it’s necessary to let your partner have the freedom to control their social life, if they’re constantly prioritizing other people or things over your relationship, this sort of behavior is legitimately hurtful. If your trust is being violated, remaining silent may lead to more pain for you later on. 
  3. Constantly denying that anything is going on: If you’re concerned about detecting micro-cheating or other forms of infidelity it’s probably because your partner is exhibiting behavior that’s puzzling, hurtful, or out-of-character. If you’re receiving the silent treatment, or others are being prioritized over your relationship, then it’s time to talk. Romantic bonds are also a two-way street. Consider whether your own emotional needs are being met while you’re stuck waiting for them to change their behavior. 

Do Men and Women Respond to Infidelity Differently?  

Regardless of the damaging effects of micro-cheating and other dishonest behavior, psychologists are determining that men and women may in fact react differently to different types of infidelity. A 2019 experiment indicated that men are more likely to feel threatened by physical affairs—imagining explicit physical encounters between their partner and another man seems to specifically bother men more than women. Conversely, the same findings indicated that women care less about physical infidelity and more about emotional integrity. Women are more concerned by their male partner’s emotional openness with other women than their physical attraction. 

Though it’s hard to determine exactly why men and women share these differences, scientists hypothesize that it may be due in part to our biological (and antiquated) gender roles. Scientists contend that men care more about physical forms of cheating because it reduces the likelihood that any children his partner has will be his. For women, a man who kindles emotional intimacy with another woman may be more likely to abandon his current relationship, and that his genes will be passed on to another. 

Reconciliation Tips for Couples and Knowing When to Move On

Communication is a critical tool for any couple, even when they aren’t dealing with micro-cheating. If your relationship is on the rocks because of micro-cheating, don’t underestimate the impact this behavior can have in the long term. To prevent micro-cheating from undermining your relationship’s long-term health, remain open to the possibility of: 

  • Couples therapy or marriage counseling: Couples who have been together for a long time may need to dust off their habits, and remind each other (and themselves) that nothing is set in stone. To rekindle a romantic bond, it takes two people’s effort and commitment. A couples therapist or marriage counselor can help you accomplish this, and far more. Reach out to schedule a session and start addressing what matters most: your relationship. 
  • Forgiveness: Forgiving someone else’s transgression is almost more about us than them. If we choose to hold on to anger or sadness because of our partner’s micro-cheating or other forms of infidelity, it’s like grasping a hot coal to throw it at them. Ultimately, we’re the ones who get burned: Our partner isn’t going to feel our pain the way we think they might deserve. We can only communicate our pain through respectful conversation and compromise—if those tactics don’t eventually prevail, the relationship likely isn’t healthy for anyone involved. 
  • Rediscovering your relationship’s roots: Re-visit the place you had your first date, cancel your weekend plans and reschedule something for just the two of you—do something off the cuff that’s not part of your established routine. From what we know about the psychology of relationships, spontaneity is a huge determining factor in a romantic connection’s overall success and health. New experiences are crucial if you want your connection to endure past the honeymoon phases that occur in both dating and marriage. Reflect on what made getting to know each other so memorable: Those are the types of memories that need to be continually made for a relationship to last long-term. 

And lastly, If you’re micro-cheating, evaluate whether you owe it to your partner and yourself to leave the relationship. Micro-cheating sounds like something we’d never do—but it may be more common than we think, considering a 2021 poll found that 46% of individuals have cheated while in a relationship at some point. Different forms of infidelity account for up to 25% of all divorces and can cause long-term stress, anxiety, and PTSD to those who are cheated on. 

When we find our mind and eyes straying to greener pastures, coming to grips with reality may ultimately be less painful than lying to ourselves—and someone else who genuinely cares for us. 

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