Cheating can take shape in a range of ways that could both significantly hurt your partner and lead to a painful breakup (or at best a period of time spent working through trust broken).
Taking part in a full-blown physical or emotional affair are perhaps the most obvious ways someone can cheat, but there’s a smaller, more nuanced way you could be cheating on your partner, and according to Dan Auerbach, Relationship Counsellor with Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors, it could be considered just as big of a betrayal.
What is micro-cheating?
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.
While flirtatious behaviour and acting in a way of romantic interest towards someone that isn’t your partner is considered a form of micro-cheating, Auerbach says the phenomena of micro-cheating really came into its own with the birth of the digital era.
“Some people aren’t bothered by their partner liking a picture of their ex at the beach, whereas others don’t feel comfortable with that. The question of whether someone if micro-cheating partly hinges on the level of trust in the current relationship, as well as the sort of behaviours your partner is engaging in.”
Does micro-cheating count as cheating?
According to Auerbach, it all comes down to the intent behind the actions. “Are you sending a signal to a person outside of your primary relationship that you are sexually or emotionally available to them?”
And if you feel like you may be guilty of micro-cheating, ask yourself: ‘Would my partner be hurt or threatened by these actions?’ And if the answer to these is yes, then it’s likely your partner could rightfully see this as a betrayal.
Ways you may be micro-cheating
Generally, you’ll know if you’re interested in someone outside of your relationship, and you may be displaying your affection in these subtle ways below.
Frequent texting: Are you constantly engaging in digital conversations outside of appropriate hours? The frequency and time in which you text this person, regardless of the content, could be considered a way of micro-cheating, particularly if you find yourself hiding or deleting the correspondence from your partner.
Downplaying your current relationship: “This involves one partner representing themselves to another person outside of the relationship as emotionally or sexually available,” says Auerbach.
Repeatedly visiting someone’s online profile: Auerbach says: “Common issues couples complain of are partners who still socialise with exes or single friends online, especially when that has a sexual tone.” This may also take shape as visiting someone’s profile frequently out of interest, whether or not you’re actually communicating with them.
Keeping your dating profile live: This ties in with the new phenomena of FOBO or Fear of Better Options. You’re in a committed relationship, so why is your Hinge profile still active? Do you want to be seen as single to other potential partners, or are you keeping your options open in case someone you deem ‘better’ comes along?
Staging run-ins or seeking excuses to hang out: You know their most-frequented coffee spot and start showing up around the same time in the hopes you may run into them there.
Putting in extra effort in the hopes they’ll notice: You find yourself dressing for them, wearing extra makeup or your best shirt and spritzing cologne on a mission to impress.
How micro-cheating affects your relationship
“Many committed couples accept flirtation as innocent and see a select few of the behaviours above as totally acceptable,” says Auerbach.
“They wouldn’t see those behaviours as cheating, but rather innocent fun. If your partner sees your behaviour as a threat, though, it’s not going to be good for your relationship, full stop.”
As for whether micro-cheating could ever be good for your primary relationship? Well, it’s unlikely the behaviour, while it’s going on, could make you stronger as a couple, but it could alert either party to issues you wish to have addressed.
“You may not wish to change your behaviour to suit all of your partner’s personal beliefs or values, but for a lasting and trusting relationship, you do need to make an effort to understand their needs for security — to help secure them as much as you can and to work as a team to address any issues that threaten your bond,” says Auerbach.
“Ultimately if you find yourself looking for attention in a way that you know is threatening to your bond, it may a good time to reflect on how to improve things in your primary relationship.”