If you've ever found yourself tearing your hair out because your partner flirts too much with one particular person or you see they've liked their ex's Instagram picture again, there's a chance your partner could be micro-cheating. Sure, your partner might not be crawling into bed with these people, but it may have crossed their mind. Micro-cheating isn't exactly the same as physical or emotional cheating, but it can cross boundaries and it can hurt like hell.
"Micro-cheating is tiny little cheats that can add up, and when they do, they weaken the fiber of the relationship and can cause a rift," New York–based relationship and etiquette expert of Relationship Advice Forum, April Masini, tells Bustle. "Sleeping with someone else is not a micro-cheat. That’s a flat-out betrayal." Examples of micro-cheating include turning to someone other their partner for emotional support, keeping old dating profiles up, or keeping close tabs on an ex or crush.
"These tiny tears in the relationship aren’t usually enough to create a break up, but they add up," says Masini. "And if there is consistent micro-cheating, or enough micro-cheating over the course of the relationship, they can definitely harm the trust."
If you think your partner is micro-cheating and want to talk to them about it, here's what experts advise.
1Be Prepared For Your Partner To Say It Didn't Mean Anything
"The defense of micro-cheating is that it wasn’t sex," says Masini. "So, it doesn’t mean anything. The problem is that micro-cheating, when it’s consistent and builds up, is disrespectful."
Sure, it's not sex, but if your partner is turning to someone else with whom to have fun or even confide, it's definitely disrespectful. A partnership requires two partners working together; not leaving one behind.
2Understand That Your Partner May Not Realize What They've Done Is Hurtful
If someone is just a friendly, outgoing, even flirty person, the fact that they might be micro-cheating may not even register on their radar. In their mind, it could just be how they are, so instead of being too accusatory, use it as an opportunity to discuss boundaries.
"Understand that the person doing the micro-cheating may not realize that what they’re doing is wrong, so don’t come at them guns blazing," says Masini.
3Explain How It Makes You Feel
When you address their behavior, focus on how it made you feel versus telling them they were wrong. "Try not to get into a right and wrong situation," says Masini. "Instead, articulate what happened, how it makes you feel, and what you’d like instead. You may feel this is remedial relationship advice that you shouldn’t have to be dolling out — but the reality is people are different, and your partner may not get it the way you do."
4Put It In Perspective
As Masini points out, some people really do let their mind run wild when they see their partner flirt or spend time with someone else. As someone who's flirty, I can attest to the fact that my flirting is always harmless when I'm in a relationship — a happy relationship — but I've had partners who saw my flirtation as something more contrived when it wasn't.
"Just make sure it’s not you being overly sensitive," says Masini.
5Realize There Could Be A Reason For Their Behavior
The reason I pointed out "happy relationship" above is because in situations where I was happy, my flirtations meant nothing. But in relationships where I was unhappy, there was a bit more to my behavior. Granted, I would have never done anything physical, but there was a need there that had to be satiated by someone who wasn't my partner.
"[It could be that] either you or your partner aren’t feeling the love in the relationship, or you’re with someone who’s not going to value you and your feelings," says Masini. "This isn’t the same thing as telling someone else you’re in love with them — but it does hurt your partner who finds out about these micro-cheats, and it does affect their emotions. 'It didn’t mean anything,' may be true for one person in the relationship, but it may mean something to the other person."
6Discuss Your Boundaries
Once you've addressed the situation, it's time to discuss boundaries in your relationship and get on the same page as to what's hurtful behavior and what's not. If you've approached your partner's micro-cheating in a way that made your feelings clear and they've recognized it, then that's a great place to start. If they still don't get it, then maybe it's time for couples therapy.
Micro-cheating won't necessarily ruin your relationship, but as Masini says, it can weaken the fabric of the relationship. Make sure you communicate with your partner and discuss boundaries so you're both on the same page.