When it comes to committed relationships, one would think that the boundaries as to what constitutes cheating are fairly cut and dry. A black and white type situation, with very little room for gray…right? In theory, yes. But a new type of infidelity known as micro-cheating has everyone talking because it blurs all those defined lines. What makes it especially tricky to both recognize and deal with is that the actions themselves aren’t necessarily problematic.
“Micro-cheating is defined by behaviors that can easily be rationalized, like text messages, DMs, a lunch. But although they may be innocent, the intentions can be murky,” explains licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, a relationship expert at TONE Networks. “It’s easy and seductive. It can feel good for a minute — or even longer — bringing some sizzle to your daily grind,” she adds.
But while it may all seem harmless in the grand scheme of things (after all, this is hardly a Diane Lane circa Unfaithful situation), micro-cheating is a slippery slope, cautions celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert Bonnie Winston. “People need to be careful. Micro-cheating gives you a thrill, but you can quickly end up thinking about the other person more than your partner,” she says.
It’s likes a gateway drug: “It can be the portal to the rabbit hole, and you may start outsourcing the emotional stuff in your relationship to this person. It can become quite easy to turn to them in times of sadness, frustration, and even start looking for the weaknesses in your current relationship to rationalize this liaison,” points out Dr. Durvasula. “That shared intimacy can slip into real-life interaction and take it from micro to macro.”
Because micro-cheating consists of such seemingly innocuous behaviors (and no physical intimacy), it can also be hard to spot. “Your partner may be more secretive, more possessive of their phone, laptop, or tablet, or generally seem more distracted,” says Dr. Durvasula of a few common signs.
Take a look at your own behaviors, too. “Any small changes to up your game could mean you’re showing more than a passing interest in someone who isn’t your partner,” Winston says. Think dressing up or wearing more makeup or different perfume. “Do you change the name of a person in your contact list so your partner won’t see it? Do you find yourself texting or looking forward to the texts of someone who may be more than a friend? These are all good questions to ask yourself,” adds Dr. Durvasula.
If you think you may be sliding down the micro-cheating slope, the best thing to do is address it and be transparent, eliminating the secrecy. “Talk to your ‘micro-friend’ about your partner, and vice versa. If you’re going to meet them, bring your partner along,” advises Dr. Durvasula. If you think you’re being micro-cheated on, address it head on with your partner. While often this kind of behavior is easily nipped in the bud and not reflective of a deeper issue (after all, we’re all human), if you do find yourself in a micro-cheating situation, seeking out couples’ counseling — simply to ensure that it isn’t symptomatic of any other or deeper issues going on — is always a good idea.