Cheating is fairly common in relationships. At its core, cheating is having sex outside your marriage. Multiple studies across the world show that cheating happens in most marriages. The US leads the list of countries where most couples cheat on their significant other. In various countries in Europe, at least 45% of married people have admitted to infidelity. Many couples also are more likely to cheat with an ex, a stranger, or a friend. There are actions that a spouse can perform that aren’t as serious as infidelity but have the potential to be hurtful. This is known as micro-cheating.
Micro-cheating is when a partner engages in inappropriate intimate activity with a stranger or friend. It can be upsetting. If your partner has been micro-cheating, is there anything you should do about it?
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What does micro-cheating include?
Micro-cheating isn’t a full-blown affair. It’s the grey area where a spouse flirts too long with a salesperson, or when they like a thirst trap. It also involves complimenting friends sexually. When your partner maintains an intimate relationship with an ex where they also flirt, it can also be a problem. Whenever your partner keeps entertaining people who are romantically interested in them, this can be considered micro-cheating.
Other inappropriate behaviours include:
- giving their phones to others
- joining or browsing dating sites
- Spending excessive money on other friends
- speaking negatively about the relationship with other people
- keeping communication secret with specific friends
- getting emotional and intimate support from others.
Some of these can be considered emotional cheating. When your partner gets all their emotional support from someone else, it can feel like full emotional cheating, though it can run on a spectrum. It’s not possible to have an entire list of what micro-cheating is.
The reason it can be a problem for a relationship is because it can cause jealousy, and mistrust and violates boundaries that are difficult to enforce. For instance, you may have a problem with your partner having an affair with an ex but you can’t police a friendship between them. But if they constantly leave complimentary comments on their ex’s posts, it can cause problematic feelings.
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What should you do about micro-cheating?
Unfortunately, this requires consistent conversations about what’s appropriate and what isn’t. If your partner crosses a line that makes you uncomfortable, you need to let them know. Some partners may be willing to compromise on certain behaviours and change to accommodate you.
Communication is necessary because not having any, means making assumptions and having unspoken expectations. For most couples, the boundary for cheating is physical intimacy or emotional withdrawal. Telling your partner that liking social media thirst traps makes you uncomfortable is important to keep your relationship healthy.
People have different thresholds for what they can withstand in a relationship. Some don’t have a problem with their spouses being close to their exes or having intimate relationships with friends. This may be because they have similar intimacies or are completely emotionally secure. This also doesn’t mean that you should be suspicious of a partner who doesn’t need extreme emotional boundaries.
What if you’re the one doing it?
If talking about what makes your partner uncomfortable is a point of contention, you may need to examine your own behaviour. If talking about this can make your partner anxious and you notice that they clam up every time you use social media or hang out with your friends, you can make certain adjustments. It’s also important to ensure you reduce any flirting and keep a respectful emotional distance from exes.
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Because there isn’t a rulebook about what constitutes micro-cheating, you can’t keep asking your partner if they’re uncomfortable every time you use your phone or socialise. Creating an environment where your spouse can open up to you when they feel uncomfortable is important for your relationship to remain healthy.
Micro-cheating isn’t a gateway to infidelity. If a partner has no integrity, they’ll cheat no matter what you do. Cheating reflects on them more than it does on you. Micro-cheating seems more like small stuff than red flags. But it’s more important to take note of your partner’s response to a request to change habits that make you uncomfortable. The bigger red flag is if they try to dismiss you, gaslight you, or invalidate your feelings.
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