Could You Be Guilty Of 'Soft Cheating'? Here's The Deal

These days, social media platforms intrude more into our actual lives — sometimes in amazing ways, and other times not. Many people have met their lifelong romantic partners on dating apps and swear by the power of connecting online. Just look at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who admitted in their Netflix documentary, "Harry & Meghan," that they met via Instagram. Others have lamented the way social media can negatively affect our mental health, with issues of comparison, happiness, and insecurities being at risk. There are also ways that these two polar opposites can collide. What happens if your happiness is threatened because your lifelong romantic partner is scoping out other people on social media? Is that digital cheating?

There's a new term blowing up TikTok called "soft cheating" or "micro-cheating." User @elixirshotz says a partner who likes, comments, flirts, or follows attractive people on social media is doing a "shady thing," making her "want to throw up." She says online flirting without the intention of actually meeting up and physically cheating is still cheating, warning it is "killing monogamy." Fellow user @ayodiba agrees, saying 80-90% of men engage in soft cheating for the ego boost. This idea has clearly caught on, with the #softcheating tag garnering more than 74,000 views. Should you take a second look at how you behave online? What does this mean for your relationship?

Soft cheating can make your partner feel insecure

In his popular TikTok video, which has been liked more than 4000 times, user @ayodiba says that "soft cheating" might be a symptom of what's going on in the relationship. Are you unhappy? Is your partner rejecting your requests for more physical intimacy? Do they put you down? That might be why people seek validation elsewhere. Nia Williams, the founder of the relationship coaching service Miss Date Doctor, agrees. "It's crucial to consider why one might seek such interactions [...] Insecurities, boredom, or a need for validation could be underlying reasons," Williams told Metro.

However, the secrecy surrounding your online habits could trigger a crisis in your relationship, even if you've never kissed another person. "When it comes to 'soft cheating' a lot of time, it's not about just your partner liking a post of some random Instagram model, but other feelings of insecurity that are being triggered in the relationship for some other reason," Dr. Nicole McNichols from the University of Washington said in an Instagram Reel. Psychologist and author Ty Tashiro backed this up while speaking to NBC News. "When one betrays a partner's trust there are always emotional consequences for the partner's well-being and the integrity of the relationship," Tashiro told the source.

If you don't want to be accused of cheating, you can remove the secrecy surrounding your online habits — experts say having a frank conversation about boundaries can help. 

You need to define what cheating means to your partner

What you might consider cheating might be wildly different from your partner. For you, kissing, holding hands, and having sex is cheating, while for your partner, it might simply be the act of subscribing to a sex worker's account on OnlyFans. Robert Weiss, CEO of the online community Seeking Integrity, told NBC News says if you talk with your partner about what constitutes cheating, you might be surprised to find glaring differences. "Some couples would think that flirting is OK, some couples would call it micro-cheating, and others would call it full-blown infidelity," he told the source.

Dr. Nicole McNichols agrees. "It's important for couples to have conversations about the types of behaviors that they feel crosses a certain line," she said in an Instagram Reel. "When you have these conversations, also talk about why that behavior feels like it crosses a line."

McNichols lists a whole host of online activities that you should broach with your partner: watching porn, liking an IG model's posts, talking to an OnlyFans star in a chat, or even interacting with AI sex bots. If you find that you're guilty of soft cheating, relationship coach Nia Williams told Metro that "raw honesty" is required. "Have a heartfelt conversation with your partner where you can express your concerns, establish clear boundaries, and work together to find compromises that honor your relationship values," Williams told the source.