photo by Rodnae for pexels
by Andrea M. Darcy
Feel betrayed a partner is focusing on someone else, but then told you are overreacting? Or is it you that is being accused? It’s time to talk about micro cheating.
What is micro-cheating?
Micro-cheating is of course not a psychological term.
It is simply an internet-friendly shorthand for describing one partner testing the limits of partnership by creating intimacy with someone else, yet without veering into a sexual relationship with them.
And it’s surprisingly common. A survey on the state of UK relationships carried out by the UK charity Relate found that the top three forms of cheating were either ‘micro-cheating’, or somewhere between micro and full cheating. Emotional cheating was in first place, followed by kissing another person, then digital infidelity or ‘sexting’.
Examples of micro cheating
Micro cheating doesn’t involve actual sex, but can involve talking about sex. Constant jokes about sex, talking about each others bodies, or talking about ‘what if’ scenarios. “If we ever had sex….” These are all ways to create intimacy with someone else that goes beyond friendship.
photo by Ron Lach for Pexels
Micro cheating can also involve physicality, such as constantly sitting with knees touching, long hugs, or often touching someone when not really necessary in an intimate way, such as touching their hand repetitively when talking, or guiding them along with a
hand on the small of their back.
Again, it’s about persistently and constantly tempting that fine line between friends and more than friends.
But mostly, it’s emotional intimacy
But more often than not, micro cheating is about inappropriate emotional and psychological intimacy. This generally looks like using the other person for things that used to be between you and your partner, such as:
- sharing secrets and private information
- turning to them first when upset or excited about something
- or even using them to complain about your partner.
At its very extreme, micro cheating involves admitting to a desire to be together, such as discussing the potential to be together. You know your partner is micro cheating if you find a text to someone else saying, ’If I wasn’t with my current partner I’d like to do this and that with you….”.
Not sure If you are or aren’t a micro cheater?
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Look at your intention for your interactions with the third party. What is behind your constant connection? Is the communication necessary, or is the truth that you do it for a sense of excitement and attraction? Or are their practical reasons for your communication?
Other telling questions worth asking are:
- Do I dress a certain way when I go to meet this person? Take extra care with my appearance, like I would for a date?
- When I am thinking about someone else, who is it? Is it this other person, or the person I am with?
- If me and my partner suddenly broke up, would I then immediately want to start something with this other person?
Does micro-cheating matter?
It’s the golden question. “Is micro cheating really a big deal?” As usual it depends on your unique situation.
For example, are you constantly monitoring your partner? And calling each time he so much as laughs with someone you see as competition at a party as ‘micro cheating’? Or each time his eyes move away from you to a passerby at the beach he is seeking to micro cheat? In this case the problem lies with you, and is one of control and lack of trust.
Like other words that are ‘internet famous’ (‘narcissist‘, anyone), the term ‘micro-cheating’ can be misused as a weapon, a way to blame our partner when we ourselves might need to look at our own actions.
But what if you discover your partner has people entered into his phone under false names? And this is just one of many things you have just been telling yourself to just ‘accept’? In this case it might be that you need to look at raising your self-esteem and recognising what is love and what is psychological manipulation.
In summary, if micro cheating arrives hand in hand with other issues like, deceit, lack of communication, and control, that it’s time to sit up and take notice.
Is it really ‘all their fault’?
Relationships involve at least two people. And generally, even if it’s just that we choose to stay, we are part of what is happening.
Again, sometimes worries about micro cheating are a sign that the work has not been done to make your relationship healthy.
- Have you discussed the status of your relationship? Are you definitely both on the same page?
- Are your boundaries clearly set? Or have you never actually calmly communicated them and expect your partner to mind read?
Do you practice open, non violent communication? Or are you constantly blaming and attacking each other?
- Do you trust your partner, or do you have trust issues meaning you are constantly monitoring and attempting to control your partner?
Do you accept your partner as they are, or are you constantly wanting them to live up to your idea of the perfect partner?
- Do you and your partner have a safe relationship? Do they feel safe with you, can you listen to them without judging? Do you feel safe with them, can you be yourself? Or is it a fake relationship?
Does micro cheating mean your relationship is over?
At the very least it’s a red flag that there are cracks in your relationship, whether you are the one doing the ‘micro dance’ or your partner. It means it’s time to sit down and talk openly, honestly, and without blame about what is and isn’t working, and what you both do and don’t want.
But note that not even fully-fledged sexual affairs mean your relationship is necessarily over. That is up to you to decide.
Some partners seek couples therapy after an affair. The affair becomes the catalyst for the couple to finally learn to honestly communicate their needs and desires, and to be honest and open with each other. This can form a new level of intimacy, and slowly rebuild trust.
The same survey by Relate mentioned above found that a third of couples in long-term relationships stayed together after one or both of the partners had affairs.
But it depends on what works for you. If you have severe trust issues already, and you perceive the slightest bit of micro cheating, you might find that it’s too much for you to handle. It is your life, after all. Although if your constant paranoia means you always monitor partners, it’s worth looking at how this might drive people away.
In this case it might be less about couples therapy and more about individual therapy, where you can learn how to trust others and yourself and create relationships that don’t leave others walking on eggshells around you.
Time to stop having endless stressful relationships and learn to love in a safe, healthy way? We connect you with a team of top relationship therapists in central London locations. Or use our sister site to book UK-wide therapists ranked by customer reviews.
Andrea M. Darcy is a health and wellbeing writer as well as mentor, trained in person-centred counselling and coaching. She often writes about trauma, relationships, and ADHD. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy