How To Get Over Micro-Cheating In A Relationship, According To Experts
If you've somehow yet to hear of it, micro-cheating is a new term for a relationship behavior that, unfortunately, isn't at all new itself. In an article for HuffPost Australia, dating expert Melanie Schilling defines micro-cheating as "a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship." For example, if your partner is being shady about how much they communicate with a certain friend, or if they downplay how serious your relationship is to someone else, that could fall under the micro-cheating umbrella. And, while some people don't necessarily agree that micro-cheating is a real thing — after all, every couple has different boundaries for their relationship — the issue at the heart of micro-cheating is very real.
"I think the root of micro-cheating is deception," Bruna Nessif, Founder of The Problem With Dating, tells Bustle. "If you're feeling the need to lie about something to your partner, whether it's small or big, then ask yourself why? We hear that communication is key time and time again, and yet so many of us struggle with opening up to our partners about issues, either within ourselves or our relationships, and that's what snowballs into bigger problems."
While not as overt as a full-blown physical or emotional affair, micro-cheating can nonetheless have a significant impact on your relationship. It's OK to have close relationships outside of your romantic relationship, but if you feel the need to hide aspects of your other relationships from your partner, that's a sign that there are bigger problems in your relationship that need work.
"Having intimate connections in the form of friendships with both sexes outside of your relationship can be very healthy," Nessif says. "Often times, we tend to expect our partner to meet our every need, sexual and emotional, forever — but that's a lofty ask and can become very suffocating. Seeking emotional guidance or clarity in someone else is not synonymous with cheating on your partner. The key is to have open communication with your significant other about your relationships with these people, so they're not caught in the dark about who you're confiding in, while also setting clear boundaries with those you create connections with so nothing is left for interpretation."
If you feel that your partner has engaged in behavior that qualifies as micro-cheating, here are five expert tips that will help you and your partner to deal with the fallout, and rebuild your relationship so it's even stronger going forward.
1. Allow Your Partner To Explain Themselves
If you catch your partner micro-cheating, don't jump to conclusions: instead, give your partner a chance to explain why they might not have been entirely truthful with you.
"[Don't] assume you know the entire story and create permanent reactions to temporary emotions," Nessif says. "Take a beat. Give the person you love an opportunity to explain themselves before you take control of the narrative."
2. Be Honest About How Their Actions Made You Feel
Honesty is the best policy in life, and especially in relationships. So don't be afraid to tell your partner exactly what about their behavior was hurtful to you, that way they'll have a better chance of really understanding you going forward.
"Don't get defensive and assume your partner's motives," Nessif says. "What may seem as obvious micro-cheating to you may seem completely innocent in their eyes. Express that their actions made you feel uncomfortable and explain why. Allow your partner to explain themselves, and continue a dialogue that promotes understanding from both of you."
3. Set Boundaries For The Future
The number one thing you should do if your partner micro-cheats? Set firm boundaries for the future so that neither of you has any doubt about what is and is not acceptable behavior in the relationship.
"Express your boundaries to your partner and explore if they are willing to meet them," Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, Relationship Therapist, and Founder of online relationship community Relationup, tells Bustle. "Share with your partner how their behavior impacts you (e.g. it make you feel insecure, jealous, worried etc.) and express your desire to have them alter or terminate their behavior."
4. Ask Your Partner To Examine Their Motives For Micro-Cheating
It doesn't make lying and deception OK, but it is possible that your partner didn't even realize that some of their behavior was unacceptable — and they probably need time to reflect on why they might have crossed that line in the first place.
"Encourage your partner to examine their motives for their behavior," Milrad says. "It may turn out that your partner is unhappy with current dynamics in your relationship that need to be addressed and/or they are struggling with their own individual issues. Either way, it is helpful for them to identify what they want to change or need to work on in order not to engage in this kind of behavior."
5. Actively Work To Rebuild Trust
After any kind of cheating — big or small, overt or subtle — the most important thing you can do is come up with a plan together to rebuild the trust in your relationship.
"Rebuilding trust is about showing your partner that you are in this thing," Dr. Tanisha M. Ranger, Licensed Psychologist at Insight to Action, tells Bustle. "Being open and honest about what you feel is missing in the relationship. Making sure you are asking questions about what your partner feels is missing. Focus [on] strengthening the friendship in the relationship. And keeping open and honest communication at the forefront."
Ultimately, only you and your partner can decide what behaviors count as cheating or inappropriate within the context of your relationship. But if you're able to talk openly about your feelings and set boundaries that you're both comfortable with, there's no reason that you can't both learn and grow from an instance of micro-cheating.