Micro-Cheating: Are You or Your Partner Guilty?

How to tell if casual flirting has turned to something more serious

You’ve noticed that your partner laughs a lot at texts he’s getting, but he’s reluctant to talk about the person sending them. Or maybe you yourself feel a little distant from your partner, spending more time on Facebook flirting with an old high school flame who flatters you in ways your partner doesn’t. In a Daily Mail interview, Australian psychologist Melanie Schilling describes this as “micro-cheating” — when seemingly small actions actually indicate that someone is taking the emotional focus off their primary relationship.

Micro-Cheating: Old Behavior, New Name

Micro-cheating isn’t new. Although the phase was originally coined in 2008 on Urban Dictionary, it’s the same problem couples have faced for centuries.

For example, a married man meets a new woman and engages in “outside” behaviors with her — letters sealed with wax in the olden days, but today it’s texts and PMs. He hides these interactions from his wife. The two aren’t fully having an affair. In fact, the “other woman” might even consider their interaction as merely friendly. But for the man, he plays down the relationship to his wife as a platonic friendship or work interaction with the secret hopes of starting an affair. Maybe he’s already crushing on the new woman, emotionally betraying his partner.

Is the Relationship Really Over?

Some say this is just the lines blurring in an opposite-sex friendship, which happens naturally at times. Schilling says, however, that if the behavior continues, the primary partner will become secondary. It’s almost as bad as actually having an affair. It changes the nature of the primary relationship and puts it at risk.

Relationship expert Susan Winter disagrees in her interview with The Independent. While secret flirting certainly tests the boundaries of the relationship, she says it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. She recommends that you sit down with your partner and discuss your observations rationally. Tell them how their actions make you feel. She then suggests asking your partner, “How would you feel if I did something like this?”

Empathy is the Secret to Longevity

According to clinical psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps, “Relationships often suffer because people get so caught up in their own experience that they simply can’t relate to what someone else is going through.” Therefore, the true test of whether or not you’re micro-cheating lies in your ability to see the experience through your partner’s eyes. Every relationship is different. “Micro-cheating” for some might be healthy independence for others. But the real way to tell if you’re engaging in a damaging behavior is to talk to your partner and take any concerns they may express seriously.

Practicing empathy, Becker-Phelps says, connects you more deeply with others, enriching both your social connections and your relationships across the board.

Beyond Micro-Cheating

If you think your partner’s behavior has gone beyond micro-cheating, don’t let suspicions fester. Spokeo can help put your mind at ease:

We’re here to shine light on the dark corners of your life — even the “micro” ones.