“As a friend”: the touchy topic of micro-cheating and why we need to talk about it

Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

"As a friend": the touchy topic of micro-cheating and why we need to talk about it
(Image: Shutterstock/Antonio Guillem)

Good, honest relationships are hard to come by and even harder to keep over time. Usually, when they break down often due to an intervening third person, the writings are on the wall. You catch them in the act and you find out for sure that your partner is cheating — but what happens when things aren’t as clear as day?

We’ve seen the memes by now; traveling somewhere together “as a friend” despite being in a relationship counts, as many other subtle and surreptitious things do, as micro-cheating

What is micro-cheating?

Micro-cheating refers to those small acts that are almost considered cheating in that they’re more emotionally, psychologically, and physically charged than what the two of you consider as just genuine in your relationship.

We bet you’re thinking: “that’s a very slippery slope,” and it probably is. Maybe they’re just really good friends with a person outside of your relationship, or maybe they’re just really admiring that person’s Instagram photos.

What counts as micro-cheating?

Again, there’s no rulebook that itemizes all the signs and symptoms of micro-cheating. One good trick to spotting it, though, is if the act goes beyond the bounds of what the two of you consider to be cheating.

Remember, cheating isn’t always a sexual act. If they’re over-investing their time and energy to gain someone’s attention and approval — perhaps more than they do for you — then it’s probably micro-cheating.

When they scroll through social media, do they always double-take on a certain person’s photo? Do they take their precious time going through someone’s feed?

When they go out to meet the other person for a quick tête-à-tête, do they dress more dapperly than when they’re going out with other people, or with you for that matter?

When something good happens to them, do they tell you as their partner, or the other person first?

How do you confront cases of micro-cheating?

In planning to discuss these experiences with your partner, caution is key.

If you’re the one confronting your partner, they’ll probably play defensive and pull out the “we’re just friends”/”it’s no big deal” card when you open it up to them. Just remember to stay calm and that your feelings are valid

Don’t approach them with aggression, but rather ask them if they’re aware of what their clandestine acts are causing you to feel and think. 

If their liking and commenting on someone’s photo makes you uncomfortable, say that. If you think they’re chatting with a colleague way past work hours is crossing a boundary, let them know.

There is a very real chance that they’re just truly not aware of it, and how open they are to changing their behavior after your discussion is a sign of a strong relationship.

But what if it’s me micro-cheating?

Now, if you’re the one being confronted by your partner, don’t be that douchebag who calls their partner crazy for coming to you with their concerns.

Keep an open mind, and consider the fact that your actions do affect your partner’s feelings, no matter how trivial you may think they are. You can always talk about the root issues within your relationship that cause you to act a certain way without being defensive.

If you’ve been feeling less seen or valued by your partner over the years, discuss how that has made you spend more time and energy at work, and thus, interacting with colleagues more often. If work has left both of your schedules blocked and you haven’t been spending quality time together, discuss how hanging out with other people has kept you at bay in the meantime.

Unlike cheating, acts of micro-cheating tend to happen more frequently. As new people move in and out of your lives, these conversations will need to happen more often. That shouldn’t mean your love for each other is waning — quite the opposite, actually.

That’s what micro-cheaters fail to do: keeping the issue “micro” until it blows up. Before you know it, you’re soul-searching in Baguio with a “friend.” Trust us, you don’t want that.

Art Daniella Sison

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