What Is Micro-Cheating—and What Does It Mean for Your Relationship?

an illustration of a woman's legs coming out of a cell phone
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

It’s hard to keep up with the onslaught of new dating terms. You may be familiar with “ghosting” and “benching,” but have you heard of “micro-cheating”? Curious to find out for ourselves, we consulted an expert. “Micro-cheating is any sort of hidden and questionable behavior you engage in with a person of sexual or romantic interest who is not your partner,” says Carmelia Ray, celebrity matchmaker, TV personality, and online dating expert.

“Given my definition of the term, I definitely believe it’s cheating,” says Ray, who went on to bring up another key point: “It’s not as important what I think as it is for couples to openly discuss their boundaries.” It’s important to set certain ground rules within your relationship that make you feel safe, and that includes what you believe constitutes cheating. Below, Ray delves deeper into the topic of micro-cheating, answering all of our questions (and some we never even considered).

Examples of Micro-Cheating

1. Following and liking someone you find yourself sexually interested in or romantically curious about, and commenting on their social feeds.

2. Sending direct messages to a person of interest behind your partner’s back.

3. Sharing intimate conversations with someone you’re sexually attracted to.

4. Downplaying your relationship status or implying your relationships is on the rocks to someone who is interested in you and vice versa (this is followed up with discussing your personal relationship issues with someone who has a personal interest in you, or you in them).

5. Openly flirting with someone and engaging in flirty behavior knowing your partner would be upset if you did it in front of them, aka acting in a way to imply you’re “available” in public.

6. Removing your wedding ring or any evidence you are in a relationship.

How Technology Plays a Role

Nowadays, it seems like a new potential partner is just a click (or swipe) away. “Technology definitely plays a big role when it comes to cheating because of the access to singles and potential people of interest,” says Ray. She goes on to explain that cheating on tech, although not a physical, in-person breach, is still emotional cheating and can be equally damaging.

Both Partners Need to Be on the Same Page

To be honest, some partners don’t mind if their person flirts with someone else. “I know many couples who flirt with other people who don’t care, as long as it never goes beyond verbal flirtation,” explains Ray. On the other hand, she says she knows plenty of other couples who would be upset and offended by the exact same behavior.

Another reason to bring this conversation up with your partner is that each individual tends to have different ideas about what is appropriate and what is not. “I recently spoke with a man who said his girlfriend was mad at him for downloading Tinder,” explains Ray. “He seemed to be totally clueless as to why she was so angry.” Worth noting: Never blindly assume your partner agrees with you.

Is Micro-Cheating a Gateway to Something More Serious?

The basic answer here is yes. Ray says she believes it sets a pattern and habit of engaging in behaviors that lead to cheating. “If someone gets used to hiding things from their partner and their conscience is not kicking in, it could simply be a matter of time before the relationship that started off as ‘nothing serious’ turns into a full-blown affair,” she says. The concern here is that it will become easier and easier to hide things from a significant other, pushing the boundaries of respect (and trust).

How to Discuss the Issue With Your Partner

1. Talk to your partner when you are not in an emotional state and when you have time to truly connect with one another without distractions.

2. Let your partner know that you heard about this new term called “micro-cheating” and recently read an interesting article about it.

3. Share your views on micro-cheating, and list the behavior that you feel falls into that category. You may even want to write down a detailed list or refer to an article in detail.

4. Ask your partner to share his/her views on micro-cheating without getting upset or making them feel bad if you don’t agree with their response.

5. Discuss how you feel about their thoughts. Be prepared to recommend a plan of action if necessary.

6. Think separately if you both cannot agree on what micro-cheating is. Take some time, and come back with your own solutions.

7. Reflect on your relationship. If you still cannot resolve your differences or agree on proper behavior. Now’s the time to decide if this is the right relationship for you. You can also seek out a relationship therapist if you’d like some assistance in working through this with your partner.

The bottom line: Everyone has a different opinion as to what constitutes micro-cheating, so it’s best to make sure you and your partner are on the same page.

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