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Micro-Cheating Can Present Macro-Challenges

Man at office holding a book looking over his shoulder and smiles.
Micro-cheating is subtle and vague and is often minimized and dismissed: but is it that innocent?

The term "micro-cheating" implies something insignificant and minimizes its seriousness. I mean, how can a tiny thing be wrong, you might wonder. It’s no big deal, and it just doesn’t matter because it doesn't mean anything. What’s the problem? It’s not full-on cheating, so it doesn’t count, right?

Micro-cheating lurks in a fuzzy, grey area. It is an interaction - either open or secretive with someone other than one’s own spouse or partner - that is tinged with intimate, sexy, flirty, romantic overtones that result in one’s spouse or partner feeling uneasy. It could be a look, an electric chemistry, eye contact, or a smile that lasts a tad too long.

Examples of micro-cheating may involve sharing private or personal details with someone other than your spouse or partner. It could be an ongoing light-hearted, flirtatious exchange with a co-worker. It could be finding the same things funny a bit too frequently. Texting that is emotionally expressive or responding to someone’s appearance or attractiveness would be yet another example of micro-cheating. Micro-cheating mimics that feeling one has at the onset of a new romantic connection.

These exchanges, while not extreme or passionate, have a negative impact on the relationship whether the spouse or partner knows about them. And here’s why: a committed relationship or marriage is the place for the engagement and expression of sexual and emotional intimacy. Period, end of the story. Any interaction - even if it is benign or seemingly meaningless - hurts.

Many times, spouses and partners refrain from saying anything when they notice micro-cheating behaviors. While the behavior may bother or upset them, they don’t want to appear jealous, insecure, or controlling. Their worries about how their spouse or partner might perceive them often stop them from speaking up about something that seems trivial. They don’t want to appear petty.

Micro-cheating behaviors are often dismissed as "no big deal" or "oh yeah, that's not significant." It was just a bit of fun!"In reality, however, any exchanges with someone other than one’s spouse or partner that are of a flirty, sexy, physical, romantic, or emotional nature threaten the primary relationship or marriage as it can signal that an opening to something more has begun.

Loving and mature spouses and partners will be concerned if they are doing something that is bothersome to their loved ones. They will want to help keep their partner feeling secure that they are the ‘one and only’ and that they have no interest in one another.

The primary concern about micro-cheating is that they often include behaviors one sees at the start of any romantic relationship. If there is already some low-level flirting, emotional sharing, and light touching, then it makes it easier to continue and escalate, as a bit of an opening to more has begun. This is really the crux of the problem with micro-cheating and why it evokes unease in a spouse or partner.

What should you do if your partner is engaged in micro-cheating?

Whether you just have an uneasy feeling or have directly witnessed your spouse or partner engaging in interactions with someone that makes you feel uneasy, bring it up early. How it’s brought up is key, but so is the response.

It’s always a good idea to preface any difficult conversation with your spouse or partner by letting them know how deeply you love them. This will help them understand how much they matter to you and how much your relationship means to you. Your relationship with them and the matter you are about to discuss might upset you because you love them.

Then, not only tell them what is making you uneasy but also request that the behavior stop. Let your partner know how much better you would feel if that behavior didn’t occur. Also, let them know how much you would appreciate it if they took this measure to help make you feel secure in your relationship.

After telling your partner that you love them, what’s making you uncomfortable, and asking them to stop the behavior, you then have to pay close attention to their response to your pain.

What should you do if you are the one engaged in micro-cheating?

If you are the one engaging in micro-cheating behaviors and your spouse or partner tells you that it's troubling them - even if you think the behaviors were meaningless or benign - you must acknowledge your partner's pain and stop the behaviors that are troubling them.

This is not about arguing your case or being defensive. Instead, it is about not engaging in behaviors that hurt your spouse or partner and reassuring them that you love and desire them. Your spouse or partner was rattled by the thought that someone else may be flirting with you, or thinking of you in a romantic way. Your spouse or partner will need additional reassurance and will need to see that you have stopped engaging in the behaviors that pain them.

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