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Microcheating Definition and Examples

This Subtle Form of Cheating Could Be Why You're Not Happy in Your Relationship

Females couple with relationship difficulties.

Though there's no one leading cause of breakups, infidelity tends to rank high on the list of reasons people end their relationships. According to data conducted by the General Social Survey, 20 percent of men and 13 percent of women reported that they've had sex with someone other than their spouse while married. But sometimes, defining what cheating is isn't so simple.

For some people, cheating is when someone crosses a physical boundary, like having sex or kissing someone different than their partner. For others, cheating includes the emotional side, which many will refer to as emotional affairs. This may look like confiding in another person when a problem in your relationship arises or hiding your conversations with someone else from your partner.

Yet somewhere in between the physical and emotional lines of cheating is what people are now calling microcheating. "Microcheating is engaging in subtle cheating behaviors that may seemingly be insignificant but still has layers of betrayal, dishonesty, and secrecy," say Tiarra Faulkner, licensed mental health therapist.

Just like the definition of cheating is subjective, the definition of microcheating may be even more ambiguous. To better understand, experts explain below what microcheating is, microcheating examples, and how to talk with your partner if you suspect they could be microcheating.

What Is Microcheating?

Microcheating is a form of cheating that consists of "seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship," say Kalley Hartman, LMFT, clinical director at Ocean Recovery. It may be more subtle than cheating, but it has the potential to be just as harmful — Faulkner even describes it as being "insidious in nature."

Just like everyone has a different definition of what cheating is, though, what people consider microcheating will also vary. One individual might consider microcheating to be not wearing a wedding ring out at a bar with friends, while another person would simply call that cheating. One individual might consider microcheating to be texting another person about their relationship problems, while another person might not consider that to be a form of cheating at all.

More often than not, microcheating does not involve any sort of crossed physical boundary. However, what you consider to be microcheating comes down to establishing what your definition of cheating is with your partner. Once that's established, "microcheating involves behaviors outside of the boundaries set by both partners," Hartman says.

As for why microcheating may sting a little more than cheating: "It can be harder to forgive or get closure because there is no definitive line drawn between what's acceptable behavior and what isn't," Hartman says. For this reason, it's important to discuss your individual boundaries and expectations in a relationship to ensure that neither partner is unintentionally crossing them.

Microcheating Examples

Though what counts as "microcheating" will depend entirely on the boundaries you and your partner have set around exclusivity and how you both define cheating, here are some general examples, according to Faulkner and Hartman:

  • Sending flirty texts or messages to someone besides your partner
  • Changing your appearance to look better or receive attention from someone besides your partner
  • Concealing the fact that you're in a relationship from other people
  • Having secret, intimate conversations with other people
  • Leaving flirty comments on social media
  • Sending or receiving sexual photos from someone other than your partner
  • Keeping dating profiles active

What to Do If You Suspect Your Partner Is Microcheating

First off, you should have an honest conversation with your partner about what happened and how it made you feel, Hartman says. Using "I" statements can help in getting your point across, like "I feel like . . . " or "I think you did this because . . . ." Hartman adds, "It may also be helpful to discuss why this behavior occurred and if there are underlying issues that need to be addressed in the relationship."

If your partner is understanding and apologetic for their behavior, and both partners are committed to making changes, then a breakup may not be necessary, Hartman says. However, she notes, "if either partner is unwilling or unable to make those changes, then a breakup may be the best option for both parties involved."

That said, it is possible to work through this, and cheating — whether micro or not — does not have to end in a breakup. Faulkner says, "Individual therapy can help with the partner who has been cheated on to work through feelings of hurt, betrayal, and grief. Therapy can also be useful to help them explore what it is they may actually want to do concerning going forward with the relationship or not."

Ultimately, it's up to you and your partner to decide if the relationship can be repaired. But Hartman adds, "If both partners are willing to work through the issue and communicate openly with each other, it can be a learning experience and lead to a stronger and healthier relationship in the long run."

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