Are you a micro-cheater? Check your chat history, because you most likely are
36% women and 64% men believe it's okay to indulge in online flirting when in a committed relationship.
Before texting became the favored means of communication and social media became the place we dedicated our smiles and thumbs up for, cheating had a clear-cut definition. In the digital era, the line is bleak and confusing. While those who indulge in social media flirting don't consider sharing their heartfelt "Likes" and "Loves" and exchanging winks and naughty emojis as acts of infidelity, experts believe that this can quickly turn into an emotional affair.
Micro-cheating is a term coined by Dr Martin Graff, a reader of psychology at the University of South Wales. The term categorizes all activities ranging from online flirtations, device manipulation (storing someone's contact in a different name) to "innocent" exchange of conversations, good vibes, and thoughts with someone who isn't your partner as cheating, but micro-cheating. It's sort of like how we feel less guilty when we have bite-sized portions of our favorite dessert vs going all the way and indulging in the whole deal.
According to data expert, Melanie Schilling's interview to Huffington Post Australia, "Micro-cheating is a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship."
So what really counts as micro-cheating?
Experts suggest that more than the action, the intention counts. A good way to test this: Do you feel a need to keep it a secret from your partner? If so, this is enough reason that you aren't being honest with yourself about your micro-flirting sessions.
Online flirting and stalking: Posting heart-eyes emojis on a picture, following a girl/guy you find hot and constantly checking out their new posts, DMing an ex or crush. Remember those scenes by the water cooler in old movies? A married man flirts with the young intern by pretending to help her around or when a stranger buys the hottie a drink at the bar? The emojis you exchange are replacements for those suggestive drinks and compliments.
Lying or NOT mentioning your relationship status: Connecting with a past lover without telling them you are currently in a relationship, being "friendly" with a cute colleague, with whom you don't find a reason to reveal about your girlfriend/boyfriend (Well, the topic just never came up... really?), flirting up a storm in a Whatsapp group that doesn't include your partner.
(Well, there is so many of them in the group, it's not like we are directly messaging each other); being super active on social media and super friendly with your followers, but allowing them to believe you are single—all of these are cues of micro-cheating if the intention is to have a connection with someone outside your relationship.
Manipulating devices: Do you have a separate email account that you use for conversations that your partner is not aware of? Have you stored someone's contact in a different name (typically someone of the same gender—Sally becomes Sam; Mark becomes Macy); do you archive chats that you'd rather not your partner to accidentally discover?
Sharing details of your personal life: If you tell that new girl in your office about the troubles you are facing in your personal life or asking a cute guy for advice that you know you can figure out yourself, you might be laying a trap that you don't want to admit. It doesn't really matter, you think. Intimacy is built on trust that comes with being there for each other in times of trouble and sharing deep secrets, wounds of the past, our hopes, fears, and silly wishes with each other.
When you look out for someone outside your relationship to channel such conversations, your need for attention or validation from the third person is more than wanting to build intimacy with your partner. Experts believe this is a very risky zone. Most emotional affairs can leave the partner devastated, and at times, all the more broken, than a purely physical, one-night stand.
Posting sexy selfies: This is highly debatable as it borders between the right to express oneself and using it as a means to gain attention from a certain someone. Again, the agenda makes the difference. It's great to post a sexy selfie in a swimsuit; we all need that rush of ego-boost and validation that comes from a wide audience on social media. But if you are using it to get someone on your list to notice you, or if you simply enjoy all the flirty comments and winkies that come your way, this could be a weird form of flirting.
Where to do draw the line?
Some of us are just happy, cheerful folks who love to spread positivity and good energy all around. We might genuinely like to reach out to friends or individuals who need someone to talk to. This is a good thing. So how do we know if we are crossing the line? Secrecy is the biggest cue. As in, can you disclose the message to your partner and will your partner be ok with it?
Also, have you reserved all your heart and playful emojis to someone outside your relationship? That's a red flag that you are mentally putting your partner and relationship in a comfortable box which according to you, is already past the fun phase.
Engaging in conversations that reveal intimate parts of you, which typically happens within a relationship, is a dangerous sign that you are risking getting emotionally close to someone who isn't your romantic partner. Another question to ask: are you disclosing information, personal insights, or challenges that are more natural to share with a partner, but due to your own fear of intimacy or search for romantic thrills or excitement of warming up to a new person, you are sharing your heart talks with another?
Emotional affairs can harm more than just your partner. Social media leaves footprints that will remain forever out there. If your online activities are things you'd rather not have any trace of, it's a good indicator that you're indulging in behavior your partner will hurt to know.
Do not fear to confront your partner
Betrayal of any form hurts. If you allow it to continue, it can slowly eat away your confidence, your trust in people, and the intimacy in your relationship. It is completely okay and healthy to tell your partner how you feel and what you prefer. Do not get emotional or lash out with insults. The best trick: be objective and rational, even if your emotions are hurt.
"Something came up in the search history when I was doing online shopping. It looks like you have been looking at pictures of your ex. It makes me really uncomfortable and sad."
This will drive home the point better than:
"How could you? You're so not over her/him, I knew it. You think I am a fool? You're disgusting."
If you feel scared or unsure to bring up the subject, remember that allowing micro-cheating to continue can set a very unhealthy pattern in your relationship: your partner might assume you are good for sharing certain parts of him/her, but it's okay to have a third person for other aspects. It could also mean your partner fails to see you in your entirety for the thrill of engaging with a stranger. Your lack of trust in them will question all their motives.
Your confidence will begin to erode. And, your partner might not take the effort needed to nourish the relationship, which will leave you emotionally single. Basically, the silent you'd be making is:
"It's fine by me to do whatever you want to do, even if that means I become your second option and our relationship takes a backseat."
What to do if you or your partner has been micro-cheating?
If it's online flirting through emojis, or stalking photos, stop right away. If you have exchanged direct messages or shared emotional conversations, come clean with your partner. Treat it like how you would an emotional affair because it was. Tell them when it began and it stopped. It sure isn't easy. But lies and secrets have a way of coming up later in ways you'd not prefer. Also, no matter how non-verbal, most partners can already guess something is amiss when there has been some sort of emotional breach by a third person.
If it is your partner, be direct and specific about behaviors that bother you. You could say:
"It makes me uncomfortable when you put heart emojis or ten winkies and kisses on her/his post. I'd prefer you reserve that kind of online display of affection for me."
Building healthy boundaries is not just good practice, but necessary for the sanctum of an intimate relationship and trust it involves to remain intact.
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