When Micro-Cheating Becomes Cheating: The Moment You’ve Crossed the Line


Micro-cheating is defined by small actions that carry whispers of infidelity — without ever crossing a physical line and entering into an emotional or physical relationship.

But what happens when micro-cheating serves as the ‘innocent’ entrée to actual cheating? And how does one know when they’ve crossed into infidelity territory?

In a recent deep dive around micro-cheating, we established the below seven examples of common micro-cheating behaviours. With the help of some experts, we’ve now been able to pinpoint a singal or action that might signify you’ve crossed a line.

Of course, it always comes down to how you and your partner define cheating, if and when you choose to have a discussion. The below might be a helpful guide for you and your partner in determining the paramaters of your relationship.

Frequent texting
Prioritising texts from that person over your partner.

Downplaying your relationship
Editing your partner out from stories or lying about their existence entirely.

Repeatedly visiting an online profile
Deleting your search history to hide it from your partner or engaging in posts from the other person’s archives.

Keeping your dating profile live
Being an active user on the platform.

Staging run-ins or excuses to hang out
Going out of your way to work together or faking an out-of-your-hands excuse to your partner to hang out.

Dressing up for them
Dressing with the intention for them to see you in a sexual way.

Being protective of your phone from your partner
Deleting text messages with the other person or changing their name in your phone. 

In some cases, it can be as simple as a text message going one step too far, or a flirtatious touch lingering a little too long. But as Dan Auerbach, Relationship Counsellor with Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors explains, engaging in micro-cheating behaviours likely stems from something missing in the primary relationship. And if you’re doing it yourself, you’ll probably already know based on feelings of guilt or unease.

“There are a few important questions you can ask yourself to work out whether you are crossing a line. If things are not good between you, you may be looking outside of your relationship to meet your needs. Questions to ask yourself include:

Are you satisfied with your emotional connection?
Do you feel like you and your partner have an interest in each other’s lives?
Do you feel connected to them emotionally?
Do you feel frustrated that you don’t have their attention?
Is your sex life on track?

If you’re having problems in these areas it could be time to consider if you are trying to meet some unmet needs that should be addressed in your primary relationship.”

How to tell if you’re micro-cheating

Auerbach says that those micro-cheating or crossing a line into full cheating territory may already recognise feelings of unease within themselves. If you feel like this might be you:

“Ask yourself whether your behaviour crosses an unspoken line in your relationship. Most partners have a good sense of what their partner considers is OK. If you’re not clear, it may be time to have that conversation and find out.

“You may see your partner’s flirtation outside of the relationship as innocent fun as long as they know what’s going and if you are completely trusting of your partner. Or you may be very sensitive to your partner sharing any playful attention outside of your relationship.

“A lot of this depends on the security of the relationship and your past experiences. It’s up to you as a couple to set the rules and make sure you feel secure with each other.”

Guilt in micro-cheating

Auerbach says that while guilt is a common feeling associated with cheating, it’s not a guarantee you’ll experience feelings of guilt at all. And when you do, it might only be because your partner has found out about your micro-cheating or cheating habits.

“Not everyone experiences guilt when they are being disloyal in their relationship or when they are teetering on the edge by flirting or acting in bad faith. In fact, many people justify sexual and emotional affairs because they feel they have been neglected by their partner and start to rationalise that it is their only choice or their right to have attention from someone else.

“It’s often only when being caught out and then being confronted by their partner’s anger and distress, or the threat of losing the relationship, that many people experience guilt and regret their actions.

“If you do feel guilty about your behaviour, whether that’s texting with an ex, or commenting on someone’s suggestive post, chances are you are tuning into the signal telling you that your partner would find your actions threatening.

“That’s a good time to reorient yourself and try and secure your partnership by addressing your needs there. For some people, it may also signal a time to have a serious think about whether you want to remain committed to that person.”

How to reign in micro-cheating outside of your relationship

How you proceed with your out-of-relationship flirtation is up to you, but if you do want to reign in it and focus on your primary relationship, then Auerbach has some ideas.

“If you are committed to your partner, cut out all sexualised or emotionally charged contact outside your primary relationship unless you have express permission and you both know that you can remain secure with each other despite that contact.

“Make sure you let the person you’ve been contacting know that you won’t be in contact again and that your decision is final. Tell them you are going to focus on your primary relationship moving forward.”

Moving forward with your primary partner

In order to build trust again for both parties, you may need to put in some hard work and investigate deeper just why you sought an emotional or borderline sexual experience outside of your relationship in the first place.

“Make sure to find a way to address what lead to you acting outside of your relationship. Has there been difficulty establishing trust? For example, are both of you leaning out of the relationship afraid the other person is not committed? Or if it is a longer-term relationship, are your needs being met? It’s time to start addressing those issues in your relationship.

“Start by telling your partner about your own feelings and needs from a soft and caring place. Try to avoid blaming or noting their behaviour. Rather, tell them what you feel you want and maybe give them some examples of how they could help.

“If you get caught in repeated conflict or distancing when you try to address your issues, don’t wait until it is too late. Make sure to contact a relationship counsellor for help.”

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