When it comes to infidelity, there’s a lot that is gray and undefined. Is an emotional affair cheating? Does meeting an for coffee behind your partner’s back count? What about a suggestive text exchange with a coworker?
Now, a new term has popped up that focuses on these kinda-sorta types of infidelity that stop just short of physical contact: micro-cheating.
The boundaries of micro-cheating aren't exactly set, but Elite Daily put it this way: “Cheating, but not really. Like when you try to look good for someone you know you’ll run into…that isn’t your SO. Or creep on their Instagram. At least it’s not macro-cheating.”
The term may be getting tons of buzz right now, but the concept goes way back. Says Megan Fleming, PhD, a sex and relationship therapist in New York City: “It’s a new title but it’s been going on since the beginning of time in relationships.”
Micro-cheating behaviors can be problematic for a few reasons. First, what constitutes micro-cheating is vague. Depending on who you ask, things like flirting, masturbating, or watching porn could all be considered micro-cheating. “It’s ultimately up to a couple to define what it means to them,” says Fleming.
Another problem with micro-cheating is that it can be a slippery slope. What starts as checking an old flame’s Facebook profile can turn into messaging each other, which can turn into meeting up, which can turn into hooking up. Oops.
Even if things don’t take a physical turn, "forgetting" to tell your partner about the after-work drinks you had with your cute coworker could be a red flag. According to Fleming, that type of micro- behavior could be a sign that your needs aren’t being met with your partner, and that’s worth paying attention to because it threatens your relationship.
Micro-cheating isn’t all bad, though. Take the example of flirting, which some people might stick under the micro-cheating umbrella. “I actually think flirting can be healthy,” says Fleming. “It can make you feel alive and desired.” What’s more, you might get a kick out of knowing that someone else finds your partner sexy and interesting, if you see an outsider initiating a flirty exchange with him or her.
Best of all, the buzzword encourages us to think deeper about what we want out of our relationships and how we can get it—without actually straying in a physical way. Says Fleming: “Anything that brings that into consciousness and facilitates a dialogue between partners is fantastic.”