Experts Say These 7 Things Count As Micro-Cheating In A Relationship
by Natalia Lusinski
Originally Published: 
Ashley Batz/Bustle

In romantic relationships, cheating comes in all shapes and sizes. Whether you're talking about physical or emotional cheating, cheating means different things to different people. And now "micro-cheating" has been added to the infidelity mix, blurring the definitions of cheating even more. If you haven't already heard of it, micro-cheating is the latest dating trend that's been sweeping social media, the internet, and relationships.

"Micro-cheating can occur anytime someone acts in a way outside the boundaries of their relationship," Rachel DeAlto, certified professional coach and Match's Chief Dating Expert, tells Bustle. "It doesn’t involve physical contact, but it does involve energy — energy you could be giving to your partner. Anytime your focus is on another prospective romantic partner, it can be a slippery slope that can lead to the destruction of a relationship."

While you may call this emotional cheating, others may call it micro-cheating. In any case, it's ~not~ good to be doing it to your significant other. And there are definitely warning signs you can look out for to see if it's happening to you.

Matchmaker and dating expert Stef Safran tells Bustle that micro-cheating is way more common than you may realize. "Since all it takes these days to communicate is a phone and a keyboard, it's easy to start up a 'relationship' without anyone realizing that there is someone else there," Safran tells Bustle. "The biggest issue is trust. If you and your significant other don't regularly discuss what is and is not OK, you may be putting yourself at risk, as 'flirting' these days has taken on a whole new meaning."

You may think your partner's "Happy Birthday" post on someone's Facebook wall was flirty and could count as micro-cheating, whereas they spent all of five seconds coming up with and posting it like NBD. If you ask them about it, they may tell you it was no big deal, or they may become flustered and nervous and forgot that you'd be able to see it, too. However, if you and your partner define what cheating means to you — micro-, physical, and emotional — there should be no confusion or jumping to conclusions.

"Creating boundaries by discussing WHAT you consider to be cheating in a dating relationship might be the best way to understand if you both have the same values," Safran says. Especially with all the technological options out there today, it *is* easier than ever to micro-cheat. As she also says, communication is key. What you may think is an innocent email to someone who's not your partner may not be viewed as that innocent by them. Even if your partner is not micro-cheating, it's still good to make sure you're on the same page as your partner, to hopefully prevent micro-cheating — or any type of cheating — down the line.

That said, here are the signs to look out for to tell if someone may be micro-cheating on you.


They Are *Very* Protective Of Their Cell Phone

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

As cell phones continue to evolve and people need the latest and greatest one, they become quite attached to them. However, if they feel the need to check them a lot when they're with you (shouldn't they mainly be focused on you though?) or disappear to the "bathroom" for a long time with their phone, they may be micro-cheating. In addition, other signs to watch for include "if their cell phone has a code on it or they take their cell phone to the bathroom, even at home," psychologist Douglas Weiss, Ph.D., tells Bustle.


You Catch Them Smiling And Laughing At Their Phone A Lot

DeAlto says if your partner is exchanging flirty text messages with someone they are attracted to, that's a sign of micro-cheating.

It's *the worst* when we're not included in an inside joke, and if your partner seems to have a lot of these moments with someone in their phone, be careful. If they share these moments with you, great. But if not, especially when you ask what they're smiling or laughing at (in a non-accusatory way, of course), it's time to have the boundary talk.


You Or A Friend See Your Partner On A Dating App

Ashley Batz/Bustle

It goes without saying that if you see your partner on a dating app, it may be more than micro-cheating. However, a lot of people delete their apps from their phones, but their profiles still appear since they did not deactivate the profiles themselves. But if the site is one that gives a date and timestamp of when they were last active on the app, and it was yesterday, while they were still dating you, that's another story. For instance, Tinder used to show when a user was last on the app, and I once saw my friend's husband on it, and he'd recently been logged in.

"It's a bad sign if someone is creating a dating app profile on an app like Bumble, Tinder, or Hinge to see what's out there," Safran says. "People who [they] might know would see that they're 'looking.' While it might seem harmless if you don't do something, it isn't harmless. Actions always have consequences, especially today."


They Talk About Their Ex... And Too Much

It's one thing to mention an ex every once in a while — maybe it's relevant to something you and your partner are discussing. However, if your partner mentions their ex frequently, and seems to know everything going on in their life currently, you should ask your partner how often they're talking. Some people remain friends with their exes even when they're in new relationships — and that's OK — but it shouldn't come as a surprise to you that your partner has been doing so all this time. "Talking to someone, even if it's just a text or through a social media app, isn't appropriate when it comes from a place of secrecy," Safran says.


They Tell You That You Are Imagining Things

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

Your intuition is a very valuable tool in determining if your partner is lying to you. Yes, sometimes your mind may play tricks on you, but don't ignore feelings of unease. Plus, if you're in a loving and supportive relationship, you two should be able to talk to each other about anything, right? "If they tell you that you are imagining things — not validating your intuition — this is another sign," Dr. Weiss says. If they are micro-cheating and making you feel like the one who's making things up, it's also a sign of gaslighting.


They Get Defensive When You Bring It Up

Another way to see if there's more to your partner's "friendship" with someone is by mentioning the person, then paying attention to your partner's face when they respond. Personally, I think this is a very easy way to get your answer. Plus, another indicator is their behavior surrounding the person — whether you and your partner are talking about the person or if the three of you are in the same setting. For instance, regarding Charlie in #6, when I asked him why he never dated his female best friend, it was "because she's had a boyfriend since I've known her"— not "I'm not interested in her." Of course, there's a difference. "Another sign is, you feel their energy shift when that person comes around or comes up in a topic," Dr. Weiss says.

A therapist friend of mine agrees, and says a good way to see if your partner is just "friends" with someone or is harboring secret feelings for them is by suggesting you all hang out. If your partner has excuses for why that cannot happen or always prevents it from happening, there's your answer. In the case with Charlie, I suggested the three of us hang out — it did *not* go well and I had my answer: They were definitely into each other.


They Invite You To Fewer And Fewer Events With Them

Hannah Burton for Bustle

Another sign? "They make an effort to “run into” someone they are attracted to —and make an effort in their appearance before doing so," DeAlto says.

When you're coupled up, par for the course is doing things together, both as a couple and also with groups of friends. But if your partner starts wanting to go to more and more get-togethers without you, this could be a sign they want to meet someone new.

As you can see, micro-cheating may be a micro deal to some couples, or one partner in the relationship, while it may be a macro deal to others. As DeAlto says, open and honest communication is key — and the best way to confront a partner who you think may be micro-cheating. "Let them know you’re concerned that boundaries are being crossed and how important your relationship is to them," she says.

The only way to define what micro-cheating is is by you and your partner sitting down and agreeing on what it is and is not. Chances are, different couples will have different definitions, and that's OK.


Rachel DeAlto, certified professional coach and Match's Chief Dating Expert

Stef Safran, matchmaker and dating expert

Douglas Weiss, Ph.D., psychologist, Heart to Heart Counseling Center

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