“Who came up with the term cheating, anyway? A cheater, I imagine,” writes David Levithan in his book, The Lover’s Dictionary. “Someone who thought liar was too harsh.”
Have you ever thought about cheating on your partner? If so, you should know that one out of every three married people have taken it a step further.
The results of a 2016 survey show that more than a third of all marriages worldwide have seen one or both spouses commit adultery!
While something like extramarital sex is easy to define, the idea of cheating is far more complicated. Just about anything – from sexting to lying to sexual intercourse – could be considered cheating.
Many of those who have never been unfaithful have at least thought about it. Some 41 percent of men and 28 percent of women in serious relationships say they’ve considered stepping out on their partners.
That’s where the latest relationship buzzword might come in. There’s a good chance you have come across micro-cheating in your own love life.
What is micro-cheating?
Micro-cheating is “a set of behaviors that flirts with the line between faithfulness and unfaithfulness,” says relationship expert Lindsey Hoskins.
The vague language is unavoidable. Unlike full-blown sexual infidelity, Hoskins says it’s almost impossible to define micro-cheating. That’s because “the line is in different places for different people in different relationships,” she explains.
The most common lapses include frequent text or social media communication with a possible flame, says the Maryland-based psychologist. She has also seen marriages struggle when one spouse regularly talks with an ex-partner or is too friendly with a co-worker.
That said, anything from Tinder swiping for fun to flirting with a stranger could be micro-cheating, says relationship therapist Robert Weiss.
“Different behaviors might be infidelity for one couple, micro-cheating for another couple, and not a problem at all for another couple,” says Weiss. “Cheating, micro or otherwise, is less about the particular behavior, and more about the keeping of secrets and the impact of those secrets when uncovered.”
Weiss is CEO of Seeking Integrity, an online community that addresses behavioral health issues. He says it’s normal to find other people attractive while you’re in a committed relationship. After all, humans are programmed to be on the lookout out for potential mates.
Jayson Dibble, an associate professor of communication at Hope College, agrees. He says flirting with someone outside your relationship is often harmless. For most people, it’s more about a quick ego boost than it is about truly being interested in another person, he says.
“Research confirms time and time again that even when people are having sex, they’ll fantasize about someone other than their partner,” says Dibble. “That can be healthy, too, because it keeps you moving.”
“A Problem for Your Partner”
But the caveat to all micro-cheating is that your partner might find your actions hurtful, however harmless they may seem to you. While flirting with someone at work might not be an issue for you, it can certainly make your partner uncomfortable.
Hoskins says that that alone should give you a reason to think twice. “You can feel differently about it, but it’s a problem for your relationship if it’s a problem for your partner,” she says.
Your willingness to resist temptation appears to be a factor in full-blown infidelity, as well. Recent research from Florida State University examined how committed couples reacted to photos of other potential partners. The researchers found that those who quickly looked away from the photos were less likely to cheat.
Those who lingered on the photos tended to entertain notions of cheating. That’s when micro-cheating might prove to be a slippery slope, Dibble says.
The Problem with Deception
Solid relationships are based on trust. Micro-cheating isn’t trustworthy behavior as it implies that you’re keeping your interactions outside the relationship a secret.
What may start as harmless text conversations or office banter can quickly evolve into something serious. So, if outside interactions are starting to take time away from your relationship, take heed.
There’s an old saying in social psychology that says, “What’s perceived as real is real in its consequences.” That’s very true for micro-cheating.
People always regard infidelity – no matter how small and inconsequential it might seem – with a sense of betrayal. They quite understandably respond to it with anger, distrust, and a loss of affection.
The damage lies in deception. Once precious trust is squandered, it’s hard to regain. And science says it’s for good reason, too.
A study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior found those who cheated in a previous relationship are more likely to cheat again. Spouses who were betrayed once before were, in turn, likely to suspect their next partner of cheating.
How do you deal with micro-cheating?
Positive communication is key, Hoskins says. Couples should ideally discuss relationship boundaries before they become an issue. Open, forthright dialogue helps prevent arguments and resentment from bubbling up later. That means having regular conversations about “what’s okay and what’s not,” she says.
She emphasizes that couples should see such discussions as a relationship maintenance routine as their relationship deepens.
“Ideas change and new things come up,” she says. “It’s an evolution.”
Weiss puts similar weight on discussing boundaries routinely and openly. He says couples can have this kind of communication even without therapeutic assistance.
“The more open and honest a couple is, the more intimacy they have,” he says. “Remember, with infidelity, it’s not the specific behavior, it’s the lying and secrets that drive a couple apart.”
The manner with which you discuss micro-cheating matters, too. If you feel that your partner is doing something wrong, you’ll do better not to be too confrontational, says Hoskins.
“Defensiveness is caused by feeling attacked, so the person who is worried needs to come into the conversation really being conscientious to not attack,” she suggests.
If you’re the one suspected of micro-cheating, be truthful about your behavior. Make an effort to listen objectively to your partner’s concerns. Consider how you can be more considerate in the future.
Finally, Hoskins recommends analyzing why the micro-cheating happened in the first place. This entails working together to address whatever may be lacking in your partnership.
This is likely to involve one partner asking the other, “What was the feeling you were getting from the behavior or interaction?” says Hoskins. “Can we focus on adding that kind of dynamic into our relationship?”
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