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Micro-Cheating: What It Is & Signs You’re Unintentionally Doing It

what is micro-cheating

Cheating may seem like a straightforward thing. But micro-cheating is an even more complicated territory. What exactly is it?

For some, cheating is if you kiss or sleep with someone that is not your partner, you are cheating. That makes sense. But everyone has their own idea of what cheating is.

To some, flirting is cheating and to others, it is completely innocent. To some, only physical acts are cheating and to others, it includes having feelings for someone, even if you don’t act on them.

What is micro-cheating?

Micro-cheating is essentially a small act of cheating. Now, what does that mean? It is the act of being disloyal to your partner, but on a smaller scale than traditional cheating.

Does that make it right? No, not at all.

But it does make it a little less wrong depending on who you are talking to.

Many people have been cheated on, so any cheating, even of micro proportions is a no-no. One of the reasons for this is because micro-cheating can oftentimes lead to legitimate cheating.

But from others’ perspectives, micro-cheating can be considered totally innocent or even healthy for a relationship as long as both partners feel the same. [Read: Emotional cheating and 10 bad things it can do to you]

Is micro-cheating infidelity?

Once again, it depends on who you talk to. What matters is what you and your current or future partner believe to be considered cheating. Infidelity, however, is the act of being unfaithful to your partner, and micro-cheating falls into that grey area.

It can be argued both ways. So you and your partner need to decide what is okay and what is over the line. This way, you can both ensure you are not going out of the bounds of your relationship, especially to a point where your partner feels betrayed.

If you and your partner both agree that flirting with others is totally acceptable, some may call it micro-cheating, but to you two, it could just be harmless because both of you have accepted that it doesn’t affect your relationship negatively.

What are some examples of micro-cheating?

Micro-cheating is not what you know and recognize as cheating. It is usually quite a bit less obvious and a bit more subtle. It can be a small gesture, a flirty phrase, or a drunk lapse in judgment. [Read: Am I cheating? 8 signs you’re accidentally doing it]

1. Texting someone you’re attracted to

You may have read that and thought “what the heck.” And you would be right. Texting someone attractive doesn’t have to mean anything, but neither does micro-cheating.

Texting someone is fine, but if this is someone you would possibly date if you were single, it is micro-cheating.

Think, if your partner would be upset by this, it is a form of cheating. What would make this behavior actual cheating? Changing their name on your phone to hide it from your partner. That takes it from innocent chatting to hidden sketchy texts. [Read: Why do people in happy relationships still cheat?]

2. Telling people you’re single

A guy buys you a drink at the bar and you flirt for a bit. That is pretty innocent. But if he asks you if you are single and you lie even though you’re dating someone else, that is micro-cheating.

We all think about the single life while we are in a relationship, but actually being in front of someone that can make that a reality is disloyal.

Why would you feel the need to downplay or completely lie about having a boyfriend? If it is solely to get free drinks for the night, okay. But if you are enjoying the attention of another guy and are comfortable letting him believe you are not involved, that is micro-cheating.

3. Keeping secrets

Any lying in a relationship is not good. But lying because you know your partner would be upset tells you that you probably shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing in the first place.

If you have to lie about what you’re doing to your partner, it is wrong. [Read: 18 signs you’re already having an emotional affair and don’t even know it!]

4. Talking to an ex

If you and an ex work together or share a friend group, that’s fine. But if you reach out to an ex on your former anniversary, that is micro-cheating.

If you feel guilty for talking to them or wouldn’t want your partner to find out, it is micro-cheating.

5. Being on a dating app

Whether you are chatting people up or just mindlessly swiping to see what is out there, that is micro-cheating.

There is no need to be on a dating app when you are in a healthy relationship. And any desire to be on a dating app while you are with someone should be a red flag that something isn’t right.

6. Disrespecting your partner

You may not have intended to sleep with or even kiss anyone other than your partner, but pushing an interaction right up until that breaking point is micro-cheating.

You may not be cheating, but you are doing everything but. [Read: Is flirting cheating when you’re already in a relationship?]

7. Emotionally cheating

Just because there was no physical connection does not mean you weren’t cheating. Connecting with someone emotionally while you are dating someone else is micro-cheating and leading into more. Some would say this is even worse than physical cheating. [Read: What is emotional cheating & 15 signs to recognize an affair ASAP]

8. Checking up on someone

With social media, there are so many ways to micro-cheat. Liking Kim Kardashian’s bikini post would not be micro-cheating, but commenting heart eyes on your college girlfriend’s bikini pic could be.

Repeatedly going back to someone’s profile could also be considered micro-cheating.

It really depends on the reasons why you are doing these things, and if your partner’s okay with it. [Read: 15 things you shouldn’t do on Instagram when you’re dating someone already]

9. Hitting on strangers

It is one thing to be hit on and flirt back, but making that move first is definitely micro-cheating.

In fact, it is right on the verge of actual cheating. Even if you are being your friend’s wingman or wingwoman, that is a sly excuse to micro-cheat.

10. Having dreams about someone else is NOT micro-cheating

You cannot control your subconscious. So even if you had a sex dream about another person, it could mean a lot of things. As long as you don’t make that dream come true, you are fine here. [Read: 14 explanations for sex dreams about your crush]

The psychology of micro-cheating

What type of person would participate in micro-cheating? What are the personality characteristics that might lead to them doing this? And what does micro-cheating make someone feel like?

First of all, sometimes being in a monogamous relationship can become a bit routine, and sometimes downright boring for some people. When you first start dating someone, you are excited and feel like you are on cloud nine. You couldn’t feel happier, right?

Believe it or not, scientists have studied how the brain looks when someone is newly in love. And the interesting thing they found after doing brain scans is that the pleasure centers of your brain light up exactly the same way as if you were high on cocaine. [Read: The honeymoon phase and how to calculate how long it’ll last for you both]

That’s right, being in love feels exactly like you are high on cocaine. It’s the same experience, even though you would not think that to be true.

This is probably one of the biggest reasons people engage in micro-cheating. They probably aren’t even conscious of this, but they are probably chasing that feeling of being in love again. Because science really shows us that this feeling of being “high on cocaine” wears off after a while, just like real drugs do.

It’s almost like a drug addict that is trying to get their next fix. That doesn’t excuse micro-cheating, but it does explain the urges and drives for people who engage in it.

Beyond the chemical reactions in the brain, a person who micro-cheats might have low self-esteem. If they feel like they need attention from people other than their partners, it could be because the other people pump up their ego. [Read: Why do I crave male attention? The subconscious need to be desired and wanted]

Another explanation is some lingering attachment to another person, such as an ex or a person they have *or had* a crush on. Some people get very emotionally attached to others. So, someone might find themselves micro-cheating if they are trying to reach out to a person they knew in the past.

Are you guilty of micro-cheating?

If you think you may have micro-cheated, the chances are you have. Usually, if you’re thinking that you may have overstepped the limits of your relationship or are feeling guilty, it is because you did something to feel guilty for. And micro-cheating is that thing. [Read: Does everyone get sexually attracted to others even when they’re in a relationship? The honest truth]

Should you come clean?

That depends. Some say you should always be 100% honest. Others say what your partner doesn’t know can’t hurt them.

This is a tricky issue and something only you can decide for yourself. If you liked your ex’s photo on Facebook, some would say that’s iffy but okay. If you DMed someone on Instagram because you wish you could have sex with them, that gets into the weird grey area. And worse, if you kissed your coworker after a few drinks, then this is just pushing really deep into micro-cheating and closer to an affair.

See? Micro-cheating is tricky because no one can define it but you and your partner. And of course, a healthy conscience!

If you feel guilty even for something minor that you know won’t happen again, your partner has the right to know. What if the situation were reversed? Wouldn’t you want to know? [Read: How to forgive yourself for cheating and not telling – The must-know steps]

Your behavior changes when you feel guilty. You may even become suspicious of your partner’s behavior, and start pushing them away because you assume they could cheat on you too.

If you hide it, you also might think that you already micro-cheated, so how different is actual cheating really?

All of these things lead to a crack in your relationship.

If you realize you micro-cheated, you may want to come clean or stop doing that completely. Let your partner know you weren’t even aware of it until later and wanted to be honest so they would know it was a mistake and wouldn’t happen again. [Read: How to rebuild trust after a betrayal]

Lying about micro-cheating

If you decide to hide your micro-cheating past from your partner, it can be a slippery slope. If you know you flirted with a coworker or thought about your ex in the shower, you may be able to forget about it and move on without a discussion. No big deal, right?

Sure, as long as it really was no big deal.

Oftentimes, these are small lapses in judgment. Most people have been there. If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend but was being hit on by a cute salesperson, you can flirt back for a few minutes before leaving to never speak to him again. That is something that probably doesn’t alter relationships at all.

But if you went back to that same counter weekly to continue to flirt, that would be more serious.

Micro-cheating can very easily be a gateway to cheating. So as long as you know where the line is and don’t cross it, you may not have to share every flirty detail with your partner.

Just try not to make micro-cheating a regular occurrence, because it can be dangerous. A good way to think about it is, don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your partner doing. [Read: 15 things to remember when you’re in a relationship and flirting with someone]

Why is micro-cheating so bad?

You might think if micro-cheating is so subtle, what is the big deal? Well, one or two little hiccups may not be a big deal. But if micro-cheating becomes a pattern, it can be serious.

Not only can micro-cheating cause uncertainty, jealousy, and even obsessiveness for the “victim,” but it can create tension in the relationship for both partners.

The person doing the micro-cheating is essentially taking advantage of their partner by getting away with as much as they can without it “technically” cheating.

How to talk about micro-cheating?

Micro-cheating is a sensitive subject to approach. Because it is such a small or subtle behavior, getting upset about it can come off as rash and paranoid. This can cause the person who is micro-cheating to become defensive.

Any discussions about micro-cheating need to remain calm. You and your partner should not accuse or jump to conclusions, rather share how certain behaviors make you feel and what you can both do to do better. [Read: How to set boundaries in a relationship – 15 rules for healthy love]

Is micro-cheating forgivable?

This is a great question that individual couples really should work through themselves. It’s possible for anyone to forgive anyone for anything. But it doesn’t always happen.

It really depends on the size of the micro-cheating too. If you have a co-worker that you find attractive, but you are texting for work purposes, this isn’t too bad. But if you’re on dating apps or take off your wedding ring around other people, then those are much bigger offenses.

It all depends on the intention, too. If and ex contacted you over social media and you responded just to be polite, then you did not intend to flirt or get back together with them. But if you reach out with intentions of seeing if they miss you and want to get back together, then that is a whole different situation – and a lot worse.

[Read: How to resolve conflict without the drama]

Micro-cheating does not have a clear-cut definition. But as long as you and your partner remain open and honest, micro-cheating shouldn’t come between you.

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