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. ICYMI, micro-cheating is the latest dating trend that's been sweeping social media, the internet, and relationships.
"Micro-cheating is a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship," Melanie Schilling, dating expert, told HuffPost Australia. "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." 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.
"Micro-cheating is more common than people realize these days," Stef Safran, matchmaking and dating expert, tells Bustle. "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. 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. Busted. 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," says Safran. 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. As a therapist friend of mine says, if you wouldn't be able to show your partner the email or text you just sent someone, it's a bad sign.
That said, here are the signs to look out for to tell if someone may be micro-cheating on you. If you notice them in your relationship, you probably want to have that talk about boundaries like Safran suggests. Even if your partner is not micro-cheating, it's still good to have that talk, to hopefully prevent micro-cheating — or any type of cheating — down the line.
1They Are *Very* Protective Of Their Cell Phone
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," Douglas Weiss, Ph.D., psychologist, author, and media guest, tells Bustle.
2You Catch Them Smiling And Laughing At Their Phone A Lot
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 — "Look at what Meg just posted on Facebook!" — great. But if not, especially when you ask what they're smiling or laughing at (in a non-accusatory way, of course), watch out. When you're with them, *you* want to be at the forefront of their mind, not competing with someone in their cell phone, especially someone who's very cute, funny, etc.
3When You Or A Friend See Your Partner On A Dating App
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."
4They 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.
5They Tell You That You Are Imagining Things
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.
I remember a boyfriend, "Charlie," who hadn't seen me in a week — he picked me up at the airport and then we went grocery shopping… and he messaged someone in his phone the whole time. He said it was his best friend... Claire. We'd talked about her a lot, and he'd said, "She has a boyfriend, don't worry." When she and her boyfriend broke up, I knew my boyfriend and I would, too. Sure enough, we did. Today, they are married with kids — no joke. So always trust your instincts!
6They 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.
7They Invite You To Fewer And Fewer Events With Them
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 he wants to meet someone new.
I'd been dating a guy in L.A. for a few months and, one Sunday, instead of going to meet mutual friends of ours, he wanted to go watch football at a guy friend's house — alone. Fine. I get it. Day with the guys. I happened to be at his apartment and we both left at the same time. However, he was *way* overdressed to go watch football and drink beer at his friend's house. He also put on cologne. Hmm. Days later, I found out that his friend was going on a blind date and didn't want to go alone, so the girl brought a friend and the guy I was dating kept her company. How nice of him. And riiiight, it wasn't a double date. He confessed that there were never football plans at his friend's house, and I confessed that he and I would not work out.
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. 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 for it, and that's OK.