Micro-Cheating Sounds Innocent. And It Is. Until It Isn't.

Sometimes, it's the smallest things that can make the biggest impact.

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A young man sitting and having fun with two young ladies symbolizing micro-cheating

Do you have a friend of the opposite sex that you regularly send memes to or share personal jokes with? Do you tag each other regularly on social media? Do you dress a little nicer when you know you’re going to see him or her? Great! But if you’re not careful, you might be heading down the slippery slope of micro cheating and it could lead to serious marriage problems.

Also known as emotional-cheating, micro cheating falls under the umbrella of emotional infidelity and refers to small, seemingly insignificant things that a person can do that, while not explicitly unfaithful, can carry with them the hint of infidelity. No, having a friendship with a person of the opposite sex — or of the same sex for non-hetero couples — doesn’t make you a cheater, micro or otherwise. However, if certain behaviors are left unchecked, there’s a chance they could snowball into something more. At the very least, they could put your relationship in jeopardy.

Why Is Micro-Cheating Something To Be Aware Of?

“Micro-cheating negatively impacts relationships because, even though the acts seem inconsequential by themselves, they can lead to a gradual erosion of trust,” says Jonathan Bennett, a Columbus, Ohio–based counselor and the co-owner of Double Trust Dating. “It can put you in situations that could easily lead to outright cheating.” In addition, Bennett adds, even so-called ‘insignificant’ breaches of trust can sometimes still have major negative impacts on a relationship.

The problem with micro-cheating, and why it can sometimes spiral into something more serious, is that many times, the people involved are initially unaware that they’re doing anything wrong.

“They may be caught up in how light and fun it feels, how good it makes them feel, and/or how it strokes their ego,” says Rori Sassoon, a relationship expert and the CEO of the matchmaking service Platinum Poire. “They may feel that they are not physically cheating so it doesn’t have as clear of boundaries as if it was physical cheating.”

The Common Signs Of Micro-Cheating

So what are some common warning signs of micro-cheating? If your partner is liking, commenting, or tagging themselves in someone else’s posts more than yours, that could be a sign.

“Back burner” relationships are also trouble signs. These are friendships with people of the opposite sex that, while seemingly innocuous, could lead to a problem. This person could be the one that partner goes to when they want to vent about the relationship and, should a problem arise, they might go there for a shoulder to lean on. “They usually feel attracted to their back burners in some way,” says Bennett. “Keeping someone on the back burner, even as a supposed ‘friend,’ can be a form of micro-cheating.”

This also holds true for people who keep friendships with their exes. While many people do this with no issue, the fact remains that rekindling contact with someone with whom they had an emotional connection could potentially stir up old feelings.

“Any emotional attachment to an old relationship can do nothing but damage to your current one,” says Vikki Ziegler, a divorce attorney and author of The Pre-Marital Planner. “You have to ask yourself: If your significant other did any of the above, how would you feel?”

How To Avoid Micro-Cheating

So, knowing that micro-cheating is a very real danger, what’s the best way to know what’s harmless and what’s not?

It starts with communication and trust. Partners must establish what’s acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to outside relationships. And, if something happens that rubs one partner the wrong way, there should be no fear in speaking up.

Often, those doing the micro-cheating aren’t even aware that they’ve crossed a line. So it’s important to discuss boundaries and express what’s important to you and why.

Couples should obviously feel free to enjoy interactions with others without the fear of those pesky micro-cheating behaviors intruding. Additionally, with that level of trust, neither partner has to worry about parsing the other one’s actions all the time.

“The best way to combat micro-cheating is to foster overall openness and trust,” says Bennett. “If you and your partner act with transparency towards each other, you’ll never find yourself in situations that can lead to micro-cheating.”

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