Micro-cheating is a complex form of flirting – what sets both apart is dependent on intention. The behaviours are subjective to every individual relationship. While one couple may consider ‘flirting with the bartender’ as micro-cheating, others could shut it down as harmless.
Berman Psychotherapy clinician Hannah Paull, PSYD, told Indy100 it’s essentially ‘almost cheating’, “meaning you did not fully sexually or emotionally engage with another person outside of the relationship, but you certainly walked the line, hoping you wouldn’t get caught.”
The key to any infidelity is concealment: Behaviours that are hidden from a partner because subconsciously, you know you shouldn’t be doing it. For example, if you’re not comfortable with telling your partner ‘you responded to your ex last night’ and scapegoated it to friends as “they wouldn’t understand”, then it’s likely you’re unknowingly guilty.
But some people are just “naturally flirty”, you may say.
While this is true, Paull explained the importance of communication with your partner. “If you or your partner are naturally flirtatious, this should be discussed, so that one can avoid micro-cheating or hurting their partner unintentionally,” she said. “Neither behaviour is inherently ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, if there is mutual agreement within the relationship as to where the boundary lies.
“However, if you or your partner are aware of a boundary and it is deliberately crossed, that’s when conflict and hurt will arise.”
Living digital, micro-cheating interactions have become easier and more accessible than ever – take the secrecy of Snapchat, Instagram DMs that can be reversed, and photos that instantly disappear after viewing. The digital age has arguably normalised risque behaviour that doesn’t honour your relationship.
Clarissa Silva, Behavioral Scientist, Relationship Coach and Creator of Your Happiness Hypothesis Method, explained that micro-cheating can be the result of “underlying issues” or “dissatisfaction in the relationship.” It could also stem from “feelings of loneliness” or deeming the existing relationship as “unexciting.”
What may start off as innocent can rapidly become dangerous and detrimental to a relationship if thoughts of ‘what if?’ start to linger. If desires grow stronger and the intentions shift, you may find yourself in full-blown cheating territory.
So what exactly are these “behaviours”? Here is a list of examples from the experts.
Concealing email exchanges so your partner won’t find it
Always replying to, or obsessively stalking, your interest’s social media channels
Muting someone or deleting a text exchange, so your partner won’t find out you’re chatting
Sharing graphic sexual details about what you prefer
Secretly communicating with an ex, or anyone your partner wouldn’t want you communicating with due to your romantic/sexual past with that person
Looking at old pictures and/or videos of you and past partners
DMing someone you find attractive
Hiding or deleting texts, emails, calls, or photos
Dressing differently when you’re about to see someone you’re attracted to or want attention from
Not being honest about who is going to be at an event you’re attending without your partner
Giving more time or energy to someone other than your partner
Micro-cheating behaviours are more common than you may think, so if a few or more sound alarmingly familiar, there’s no need to fret just yet.
Still not convinced? Hypothetically switch places. Better yet, imagine swapping phones with your partner for an entire week. If you’re happy with what you see, then great.
Silva advises couples to “have an honest conversation” as it could “isolate future behaviour that is unacceptable and start a healthy dialogue about the future of your relationship.”
These conversations can usually highlight the weak spots within the relationship and therefore “create strategies to repair” to “prevent future discontent.”
However, if a “partner conceals or denies their behaviours or tries to gaslight you, the solution may be to break up,” Silva added.