What is Micro-Cheating?
Micro-Cheating is all the so called little things that may feel like infidelity to one spouse, but does not involve having sex with another person. The general concept of cheating can be gray instead of black and white for couples. For example, your wife may never even consider having an extramarital affair with another man, but she doesn’t see anything wrong with staying friends with or even flirting with her ex-boyfriend on facebook. Your husband may say he is totally devoted to you. However, he is having lunch every day with a female coworker and he becomes defensive about it when you tell him it makes you uncomfortable.
There is a difference between being friendly or courteous and being inappropriate or flirting. For example, saying, “You look very nice today” is different than saying, “Wow, you really look hot in that outfit”. Opening the door for another woman is different than engaging in personal conversation with her. A rule of thumb to consider is that any time you give yourself and your time emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually or sexually to someone outside your marriage, it can be considered a betrayal because it is energy, time, attention, intimacy, and affection that should be given to your spouse.
Below are a few examples that may be considered micro-cheating:
Are you keeping your activity and/or conversations with someone you work with a secret from your spouse?
Have you entered someone’s name in your phone under a code or fictitious name?
Are you having private conversations through social media that you keep a secret?
Do you spend time thinking about another person and go out of your way to make time to see them, meet with them, or talk to them?
Do you flirt with other people?
Do you objectify people (think of them sexually instead of a whole person)?
Are you sharing too much personal information about your feelings, relationship or life with someone other than your spouse?
Are you spending more and more time talking to and meeting up with a coworker that is not spent actually doing work?
Are you keeping an ongoing friendship with someone you had a former romantic relationship with?
Are you lying to your spouse?
Are you sexting (talking about sex or sending and receiving sexual pictures with someone)?
Do you spend time on adult websites or visit adult entertainment places without your spouse’s knowledge?
Does your partner tell you that any of your behaviors bother them and they would like you to stop, but you do not see anything wrong with what you are doing?
5 Steps to Addressing Micro-Cheating in a Marriage:
Calm Down: If you find out your partner has micro-cheated, it is very likely you will feel anger, hurt, shock, and anxiety. It can be very easy to jump to conclusions. Keep in mind that your partner may not realize they did anything wrong. Take time to calm down first, identify what you are feeling and then decide how you will address the issue with your partner. Remember to ask questions verses making accusations. Also, share how what they did impacts you verses yelling, name calling, ending the relationship, etc.
Define What Constitutes Infidelity: Make time to have a conversation about each other’s definition of fidelity. Discuss what you each consider to be betrayal behaviors. You may be surprised that you view things very differently. For example, one of you may view flirting as harmless and the other one views it as betrayal. Your value systems related to relationships are developed from several factors, including witnessing your parent’s relationship, cultural and spiritual beliefs, influence from friends, unrealistic ideas from movies, experiences from past relationships, your own personality, etc. It is important to keep open and ongoing conversations about what is ok and not ok within the relationship.
Take Ownership: If your partner tells you they feel betrayed by your behaviors, don’t dismiss their feelings or argue with them. Acknowledge what you did was painful to them and caused mistrust. Then apologize, and agree on ways to prevent the behavior in the future.
Create Boundaries to Protect the Marriage: I highly recommend the book entitled Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud. This book helps you as a couple to understand how to create boundaries to protect your relationship. For example, there may be things that are not necessarily wrong, but they threaten the safety of the relationship verses strengthening it. As a couple, you do not have to agree on everything, but you do have to honor your partner by being willing to make changes that help them feel valued and safe in the marriage.
Get Professional Help from a Marriage Therapist: If your spouse lies or becomes defensive, or if he/she has promised to stop in the past and you have caught them again, it can be a sign of a compulsivity issue or a sex addiction so ask your partner to go to therapy with you to find out why they promised you to stop the first time you discovered the behavior and they continued to do it. In addition, the partner who feels betrayed may need some healing from the trauma of what they discovered and the anxiety caused by broken trust. Meeting with a therapist may also help strengthen the marriage overall by gaining better communication or partnering skills. Remember counseling helps us be healthy mentally, emotionally, and relationally.
Dr. Crystal Hollenbeck specializes in helping couples heal from relational betrayal. She is a Certified Trauma Professional, a Relationship Expert, and an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist. In addition, she holds certifications in Sex Addiction Therapy, Partner Betrayal Trauma, Anger Management and EMDR Therapy.