Despite its clickbait undertones, micro-cheating is a romantic condition that should be discussed. But, instead of rolling our eyes, we should check our boundaries.
“It’s not really cheating!” These are words that seem to be uttered increasingly in our intimate relationships. There was a time when philanderers knew where they stood. Cheating was clearly defined as an intimate physical interaction with someone outside of your monogamous relationship. However, times have changed and our definition of cheating has also evolved. We are now aware of the devastating effects an emotional affair can have upon a relationship, and in recent times, we broadened the definition of infidelity even further by including micro-cheating.
Micro-cheating inhabits the grey area of infidelity. It consists of seemingly benign interactions that shift your focus from your partner to someone outside of your relationship. These interactions can be physical or emotional and often cause the erosion of trust and safety in a relationship.
As the nature of micro-cheating is ambiguous and mainly up to individual boundaries of what is and is not okay behaviour with others outside of your relationship, many of us do not know if our behaviour would fall under the label of micro-cheating. Is adding a heart emoji to someone’s Facebook post really micro-cheating or is it maintaining some autonomy?
There are three red flags at the threshold of any physical and/or emotional affair and they are present in micro-cheating as well. Emotional intimacy is the first and most powerful bond of all. This is when you are sharing with the other person more about you than you are with your partner. Secrecy then waxes the slippery slope into cheating. The secrecy may be in deleting flirty messages so they are not discovered by your partner, or lying about your relationship status online. The last red flag is chemistry and not the kind that you find in a science lab. The kind of chemistry that is present in cheating is the kind that may have you flirting and fantasising about what it would be like to be with the other person.
If your partner views your behaviour in a way that is negatively impacting their perception of your loyalty, you have a problem that has the potential to possibly end your relationship.
Micro-cheating is not really new, in fact it has always been around. The only element that is different to previous generations is the medium that we use to micro-cheat. In the past, we engaged in flirty eye contact over the water cooler or passed handwritten notes to each other. In the age of digital, we now use social media and text messages. It has never been easier to micro-cheat, but in doing so we create a digital footprint and as such, it has never been easier to be caught micro-cheating.
So where is the line when it comes to micro-cheating and are we making a mountain out of a molehill? Can micro-cheating actually damage a relationship in the short and long term? As I see it, the problem is that most of us don’t even realise that we are micro-cheating, especially when it is done online. It seems harmless and sometimes, it even is. What is important to consider is the intention behind the interaction and how it makes your partner feel. If your intention is to engage in behaviours that you know your partner would not appreciate, then you are micro-cheating. A good rule of thumb is to think to yourself, “would I do this if my partner was watching?” If the answer is no, then it’s likely that you are micro-cheating. If your partner views your behaviour in a way that is negatively impacting their perception of your loyalty and commitment to your relationship, then you have a problem that has the potential to damage and possibly end your relationship.
In order to address the grey area of micro-affairs, we need to look at relationship boundaries. Every person in a relationship should have their own set of boundaries on what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviours for themselves, and also from their partner. What is critical is that your partner is aware of and agrees to your boundaries. If he or she strays outside of the agreed-upon boundaries, this constitutes a betrayal of trust by your partner. You can call it micro-cheating or anything else you choose, but a betrayal of trust is still a betrayal none the less and once trust is gone, it can be very difficult to recover.