Is micro-cheating a real thing?
What is micro cheating? How do you define it? Is it just as bad as “normal” cheating in relationships?
Plus, how can you communicate relationship boundaries when it comes to this kind of emotional infidelity?
Micro cheating can be defined in many ways:
Cosmopolitan says that it’s the “small things you do that could have whispers of infidelity, without actually being unfaithful.”
Time magazine defines it as “a set of behaviors that flirts with the line between faithfulness and unfaithfulness.”
And Urban Dictionary says that it’s “small acts considered disloyal within a relationship. Nothing too serious, but not innocent either.”
Because there are so many definitions of micro cheating, a whole lot of behaviors may or may not even qualify — a raised eyebrow, a furtive smile, lightly touching someone on the arm, browsing profiles on hookup apps but not actually hooking up, chatting with an ex on social media, checking out a little porn here and there, sexting, webcamming with strangers, going to a strip club with the guys (or gals), or getting a massage when away on business.
What is considered cheating? Where do we draw between micro-cheating and actually being unfaithful?
Here’s a thought: Maybe there’s no line to draw. Maybe cheating is cheating.
Maybe calling a behavior that violates one’s relationship boundaries micro-cheating is simply a way of justifying that behavior.
Or maybe there is a meaningful difference between micro-cheating and emotional cheating.
In my book Out of the Doghouse, I define cheating as “the breaking of trust that occurs when you keep intimate, meaningful secrets from your partner.”
Notice that this definition of infidelity does not name specific sexual or romantic behaviors.
Instead, it focuses on what matters most in romantic relationships — mutual trust.
If you’ve engaged in sexual or romantic behaviors that violate the trust in your relationship, you’ve cheated.
My definition also suggests that a list of behaviors that do and don’t qualify as cheating depends on the couple.
If you and your partner have mutually agreed that looking at porn is not an issue, so be it. And who cares what your grandmother thinks about it? This is your relationship to define, not hers.
If, however, you and your significant other have mutually agreed that porn is not OK, then plugging in that flash drive filled with your favorite videos is cheating.
Interestingly, for betrayed partners, it’s usually not the specifics of what you’ve done that causes the most pain.
What hurts the most is the lying, the manipulation, and the keeping of secrets from the cheating spouse — the lies of omission.
When you engage in sexual and romantic behaviors that violate relationship boundaries (including marriage vows), you’ve cheated. Period.
And when you lie about that behavior and keep it secret, you’re compounding the damage.
That said, maybe micro-cheating really is a thing — a less-damaging form of cheating.
My definition of micro-cheating centers not on the specifics of the “sextracurricular” act, but on how deeply that behavior and any lies and secrets surrounding that behavior impacts the betrayed partner when the behavior comes to light.
In other words, how profoundly is relationship trust affected by the act and by covering up the act?
If you find yourself now wondering what constitutes cheating (micro or full-blown) in your relationship, initiate a discussion with your partner about what behaviors are and are not acceptable.
When you both can mutually define your relationship boundaries in this way, cheating is much less likely.
Moreover, by being open and honest with one another about your sexual desires and limits, you can develop a deeper sense of emotional intimacy and relationship trust.
In short, you strengthen your intimate connection.
The more open and honest you and your partner are with each other, the more intimacy you will have. So give this conversation a go.
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