Micro cheating is the term used to describe behaviors that aren’t traditionally considered true infidelity, but that have some features of infidelity, like dishonesty and secrecy while in a committed relationship. Although these may seem unimportant or easy to brush off, they can still hurt your significant other and your relationship with each other. Fully understanding micro cheating, what it looks like, and what counts can enable you to detect it and help you cope if it occurs in your relationship.
What Is Micro Cheating?
Micro cheating refers to acts of seemingly trivial, inappropriate behaviors that occur outside of one’s devoted relationship, often done unintentionally. Many people may not consider these behaviors infidelity, since there’s no sex involved, but micro cheating can breach a couple’s spoken or unspoken norms, trust, and boundaries in other ways. Although micro cheating doesn’t always result in a full-blown affair, it could lead to relational problems down the road.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Micro Cheating vs. Cheating
While infidelity means different things to different people, relationship experts generally agree that it refers to any behavior that is kept secret or induces feelings of betrayal in a committed relationship. While micro cheating and a physical affair share this commonality, micro cheating often lacks the sexual and physical components usually seen in traditional physical infidelity. Unlike conventional cheating, micro cheating isn’t always easy to identify or define.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Micro Cheating vs. Emotional Cheating
Emotional cheating is when a person secretly engages in a non-sexual but intimate relationship with someone who isn’t their partner. Emotional affairs can begin as micro cheating, with small actions like sharing personal details with a crush or a casual lunch with an ex. But these tiny infractions can create opportunities for something deeper to emerge and, if done repeatedly, could potentially turn into emotional or physical infidelity.1, 2, 3, 4, 6
Examples of Micro Cheating
If you’re wondering whether messaging your ex or joining a crush for some drinks is micro cheating, ask yourself the following questions: Do I frequently withhold relevant information from my partner? Could my actions potentially hurt them or the relationship? How would I feel if the roles were reversed? Your answers may clarify if micro cheating is at play or not, as they would reveal whether these acts elicit feelings of hurt and betrayal.
Some examples of micro-cheating include:2,4,6,7
- Messaging or texting someone in a flirtatious way
- “Liking” or posting a provocative comment on someone’s Instagram/Facebook page
- Lying about your relationship status online or in person
- Keeping a dating profile to see if you get matched with someone “better” than your main person
- Giving your phone number to a person you know is attracted to you
- Going to extra lengths to look attractive so you can impress your crush at work
- Obsessively cyberstalking a crush or an ex
- Talking about your sex life, sexting, or sending nude pics to someone else
- Frequently communicating with someone who flirts with you
- Removing your wedding/engagement ring before going out with friends
- Flirting with other people
- Joining your boss for happy hour behind your partner’s back
- Keeping regular communication with an old flame
Signs of Micro Cheating
Micro cheating isn’t always easy to spot, yet it can occur in the most likely places, such as online, at work, and within social circles. The challenges of spotting micro cheating, along with any uncharacteristic behaviors or activities, can make it difficult not to wonder or become suspicious.
While each situation is different, some classic signs of micro-cheating include:2,4,5,6,7
Secrets, lies, and deceit are typically at the center of any form of infidelity, and micro cheating is no exception. While it is normal for people to want privacy, secrecy can signal larger issues around trust and fidelity.
Some examples of secrecy from a partner include:
- Withholding certain aspects (or lying about cheating) regarding the nature of their social media usage
- Hiding/deleting text messages or emails
- Whispering when they’re on a phone call or taking the call outside
- Keeping their phone face down when they’re around their partner
- Abruptly shutting down their computer when their significant other walks in the room
Someone who is micro cheating can often seem distracted, preoccupied, or like their mind is elsewhere. It can be normal for people to be distracted every once in a while, especially during busy or difficult times, but persistent preoccupation and lack of attention towards their significant other is a red flag–not only for infidelity, but also for the level of commitment they feel in the relationship.
Examples of an inattentive partner include:
- They’re constantly on their phone/other devices or frequently looking at them
- They seem “out of it” during a date night or other couple’s activity
- They appear indifferent or mentally checked out throughout a heart-felt conversation
- They become emotionally, mentally, or physically distant
- They neglect the main relationship
Crossing Relationship Boundaries
Micro cheating, and infidelity in general, are typically defined by one partner crossing the other’s boundaries around trust and fidelity. When a person is micro cheating, they are typically crossing relationship boundaries, whether they know it or not. For instance, they may communicate with their ex despite knowing it makes their partner uncomfortable or “like” models’ pictures on social media despite their partner having asked them to stop. In many cases, a boundary–whether defined or implied–is being crossed.
Another characteristic of infidelity, including micro cheating, is a tendency by the person cheating to downplay or flat out deny any wrongdoing when caught or confronted about dishonest activities. Defensiveness can look different; it can be deflecting about the issue, denying the action, flipping the blame onto their partner, and concocting elaborate, seemingly plausible explanations when claims of misconduct are brought to their attention.
5 Signs You’re Micro Cheating
If you fear that you might be micro cheating on your significant other, consider self-reflecting and examining the intentions behind your actions. Only you know how you feel and what your motives are, but it’s crucial that you take a hard look at yourself and be honest about whether you acted inappropriately. Ultimately, what matters the most are those things directly impacting you, your partner, and your relationship.
Signs that you may be micro cheating include:1,4,6,7
- You’re obsessed with being online, on your phone, social media for the purposes of giving or receiving attention from people you find attractive
- You present yourself as single online or in real-life situations
- You have a habit of meeting up with people you’re attracted to behind your partner’s back
- You are talking to an ex or a crush and may have them listed on your phone under a made-up name to hide it from your partner
- You tend to minimize such behaviors and the impact they could have on your main relationship
5 Signs You’re Being Micro Cheated On
Micro cheating can be difficult to spot, but it might be useful to look out for signs of uncharacteristic behavior if you feel like something is going on. If you feel like you’re being cheated on, your first instinct might be to immediately confront your partner. Before you jump the gun, take inventory to determine if micro cheating is truly going on, or if there is a more innocent explanation to your partner’s behavior.
Signs you’re being micro cheated on might include:1,4,6,7
- Your partner regularly communicates with an ex or a particular person they have never mentioned before
- Your special person seems distracted or emotionally detached and neglects your relationship
- They are secretive about their social media and communication apps
- Your partner makes no mention of you on social media, at work, their circle of friends, etc.
- When you bring any of these concerns up, they become defensive, down-play it, or gaslight you
What Does Micro-Cheating Mean About Your Relationship?
Infidelity can happen for various reasons, and some may find it surprising that affairs occur in happy couples as well as miserable ones. Even though cheating is different in each relationship and situation, it usually stems from a lack of relationship satisfaction. Affairs–including micro cheating–can also be motivated by factors like low-self-esteem, laxed boundaries, poor relationship quality, and more.2,3,4,6
Some things micro-cheating might say about your relationship are:
- Decreased personal commitment (by one or both partners) in the relationship
- More permissive attitudes (by one or both partners) regarding cheating
- Poorly defined boundaries
- One or both partners are bored in the relationship or need for excitement
- Low self-esteem from one or both partners
- Lack of or problems with intimacy (like having a sexless marriage)
- One or both partners feeling neglected
- Lack of communication in a relationship
- Lack of affection
What to Do If You’re Experiencing Micro Cheating
Micro cheating can strain relationships and everyone involved. In some instances, it could trigger infidelity PTSD and betrayal trauma for the injured partner. However, not everyone reacts the same, and not every relationship that experiences an affair is destined to fail. In fact, many couples willing to work through the aftermath can bounce back.
If you’re experiencing micro cheating in your relationship, here are some ways to move forward:2,3,4,6
Resist the Urge to Overreact
Resist the urge to over-react and allow yourself and your partner some space. Reacting from a place of emotion can hurt you and your partner’s relationship. While this may be what you want in the moment, allowing yourself time to process your emotions and find out what youreally want can help you find the best path forward.
Plan Your Conversation
Having a plan can increase the chances of success. When you open the discussion, clearly convey your emotions, and solely focus on the micro cheating. Try to frame the conversation around how this has impacted you using “I” sentences–“I feel betrayed”–as opposed to “you” statements, like “You betrayed me.” Refrain from shaming, finger-pointing, or bringing up past struggles. Empathetically listen to your partner when they speak and be open to exploring the circumstances surrounding the micro cheating.
If you’re the person who cheated, listen closely to your partner’s concerns, how they feel, and try to validate their emotions and avoid defending yourself or blaming them for the act of infidelity. Candidly express how you really feel and address uncomfortable emotions or factors that contributed to the micro cheating.
Set Healthy Relationship Boundaries
Talk about how you and your partner define micro cheating–and infidelity in general–to ensure you’re both on the same page. This helps you set healthy relationship boundaries around fidelity that both can mutually agree on and stick to. Although it’s normal for your feelings of jealousy and mistrust to pop up from time to time, avoid imposing boundaries based on those feelings, such as forcing them to let you snoop through their phone and social media.
Reconsider the Relationship
If your partner isn’t receptive to how you feel, is unwilling to rebuild relationship trust, or simply does not want to make any concessions, it may be time to reconsider the relationship’s trajectory. As the person committing the infraction, they should be willing to meet you halfway.
If you’re the person who cheated, consider how satisfied you are in your current relationship. Oftentimes, cheating in any form can be indicative of unhappiness in a relationship, so it is important that you do the work to figure out how you truly feel. You might need to create space between you and your partner to further explore your emotions.
When to Consider Couples Counseling or Therapy
If you and your partner have jointly decided to work things out, couples counselingcan be a great source of support. However, couples therapy is a process that takes time and dedication. As such, it’s important to find a marriage or couple’s therapist who is experienced in affair recovery and related issues. Couples counseling can provide a safety net to process underlying concerns connected to micro cheating and enable you to work through the reactions, feelings and hurdles brought on by this crisis.
Entering couples therapy can stabilize the relationship in a manner that’s conducive for you and your partner to navigate complex emotions, redefine the future of the relationship, and develop the necessary skills to sustain a healthy partnership.8,9
In addition, individual therapy is generally recommended to complement couples counseling. Many people find that individual treatment provides them with a safe avenue to talk and delve into their emotions without feeling judged. Plus, it can assist everyone involved to gain insight into factors contributing to this transgression and facilitate emotional stability moving forward. One simple way to find a therapist is through an online directory.8,9
While micro cheating is ultimately defined by individuals in a relationship, it can undeniably be a disturbing form of infidelity for some couples. That is why it’s fundamental to talk about and establish healthy relationship boundaries, including clear conversations around infidelity and what counts. If you think micro cheating has occurred in your relationship, it is important that you process your emotions, establish healthy boundaries, and pursue the resources available to you, including professional counseling.