Micro-cheating: The small actions that some say are as bad as full betrayal

Is this cheating?

Chelsea Ritschel
in New York
Tuesday 07 September 2021 19:31 BST

[This article was originally published in January 2018]

Have you ever had a flirtatious exchange with a co-worker or classmate, but decided to keep the conversation a secret from your significant other?

Or perhaps you used the fire emoji with someone other than your significant other’s Instagram post – simply because you thought they looked good.

Well, according to dating expert Melanie Schilling, who spoke to HuffPost Australia, this type of behaviour isn’t as innocent as you may think.

The behaviour actually makes you guilty of something Schilling refers to as “micro-cheating,” or as she defines it, “a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship.”

If this sounds a bit extreme – we agree. So how do you know if you are encouraging or engaging in micro-cheating?

According to Schilling, you might be engaging in micro-cheating if “You secretly connect with another guy/girl on social media; if you share private jokes; if you downplay the seriousness of your relationship to another guy/girl; or if you enter their name under a code in your phone.”

Is micro-cheating as bad as real cheating?

So basically all human interaction with members of the opposite sex outside of your relationship.

While Schilling does make some interesting points to back up her claim, like it all comes down to intention, we can’t help but express doubt over her belief that if you share private jokes or connect with another guy/girl on social media it “is a subtle betrayal.”

And, if you don’t nip this behaviour in the bud, Schilling warns “You are effectively saying ‘It’s okay to flirt with him/her, I’m happy to take second place and I don’t really matter.’”

We asked relationship expert Susan Winter if she agrees with these claims - and it turns out she does - but believes it all comes down to intention and context.

Winter told The Independent: “Although micro-cheating may not be physical cheating, it’s certainly testing the borders of emotional cheating. Flirting is flirting. And flirting is the act of fanning a spark that can easily spread to a flame.”

Emotional cheating can be just as harmful to a relationship

But should this behaviour really be a deal-breaker in a relationship? If it makes you feel uncomfortable or insecure in your relationship, then perhaps.

However, Winter recommends first talking to your partner about the issue in a diplomatic and rational way – by explaining the observations you’ve made, and how they have affected you.

And if you think “there may be more to the story,” Winter suggests asking your significant other, "Is there something I need to know about your feelings for this person?”

Another effective approach would be to ask: “How would you feel if I did something like this?” according to Winter.

But, if you find yourself guilty of “micro-cheating” as well, as many of us are, it seems more appropriate to take Schilling’s warning with a grain of salt.

After all, everybody flirts.

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