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Micro Cheating and Emotional Cheating: Is all cheating equal?

Is all cheating, cheating?

Relationships are complicated – we hear it all the time. They’re full of nuances, grey areas and because every relationship is different, it’s sometimes really tricky to know when something is a red flag.

Micro cheating and emotional affairs are some of these concepts that don’t necessarily have a definition, nor do they look the same in every example. They are areas of infidelity that don’t always look like what we would traditionally consider cheating because they don’t involve adultery. Most relationship and marriage experts, however, would say that they are examples of cheating.

What is micro-cheating?

Micro-cheating refers to small breaches of trust within a relationship that don’t amount to what could be considered an ‘affair’ and physical cheating. It is sometimes known as, or involves, emotional cheating, for example having romantic feelings towards someone who is not your partner and developing those emotions to a point where your partner feels a wavering in the commitment to the relationship.

This might be through messaging an ex or developing an online relationship, but never meeting in person.

Micro-cheating is an ethical ‘grey area’. It is hard to define and sometimes very difficult to identify.

Some examples of micro-cheating might be:

  • Messaging or interacting with an ex-partner,
  • Flirting or encouraging romantic or sexual feelings with someone who is not their partner,
  • Not making it clear they are in a relationship with someone, or actively encouraging someone’s advances,
  • Joining a dating site.

What is emotional cheating?

Emotional cheating is similar to micro-cheating in the way that it is not a physical or sexual affair. However, it involves more emotional investment. It is developing an emotional connection, alike to the emotional intimacy of a romantic relationship, with someone who is not your partner.

Some signs that your partner is having an emotional affair might be:

  • Turning to a specific other person for emotional support and comfort instead of you
  • Oversharing details about your romantic relationship with the other person
  • Comparing you to the other person whom they are not in a relationship with, e.g. “X understands me better than you do”
  • Less physical and sexual intimacy between you as a couple
  • A mental fixation on the other person
  • Secrecy around their relationship with the third party, including hiding messages, lying about meeting them, or reducing the significance of their friendship
  • Responding to questioning or confrontation with “We’re just friends!”
  • Your partner is more irritable towards you after they have spent time with the other person

These also work for identifying whether you are having an emotional affair with someone other than your partner.

Emotional cheating shouldn’t be mistaken for platonic friendships.

However, friendships can evolve into emotional cheating if the boundaries set by the couple are crossed, for example if intimate details and information about the romantic relationship are shared with the third party.

Why does it happen?

It is tempting to blame yourself when you discover your partner has breached trust, and think you should have been a ‘better’ partner.

However, emotional and micro-cheating, whilst they can be intentional, are usually small acts that build over time, sometimes entirely subconsciously. Emotional cheating can be unconscious boundary slippages.

It may be that your partner is trying to get a deeper need fulfilled, that they, consciously or unconsciously, do not feel they are getting from you.

Some ways to manage or avoid  this are to ensure you regularly communicate, and keep your mind open. Listen to your partner and really understand what they are trying to say. Encourage time spent together just the two of you with no other distractions. Ask questions and try to delve deep, and be open with your own thoughts and emotions, too.

Does it ‘count’ as cheating?

Some people may believe that because there is no physical or sexual element to the relationship with the person who is not the primary partner, it does not count as cheating.

However, most relationship experts agree that it is a form of cheating, and can also pave the way for physical affairs.

At the most basic level, micro-cheating and emotional cheating breach the trust of a romantic relationship.

Preventing or recovering from emotional or micro cheating

One of the main questions is whether your relationship can recover from an emotional affair or micro-cheating. There is no right or wrong answer and every relationship is unique. Divorce is certainly not inevitable in any relationships that face cheating.

If you want to recover from this kind of cheating or prevent it happening, there are some active choices you and your partner can make in your relationship:

  • Open, honest and regular communication
  • Put clear boundaries in place for both of you
  • Take time away from phones, TV, other distractions to be with each other
  • Actively ask questions and listen to the answers
  • Schedule physical intimacy and alone time
  • Small acts go a long way – surprising one another with a small gift, doing the household chores, or planning an activity to do together
  • Date days and date nights
  • Learning how to deal with conflict in a healthy way

For some couples, professional support can be invaluable, so seeking relationship counselling may be the answer.

However, if your marriage has come to an end, it is important to seek legal advice as early as possible to understand the processes of divorce and separation.

Ultimately, breaking trust in a relationship is a no-no. Recognising micro cheating or emotional cheating in your partner, or in yourself, can be upsetting and stressful, but it does not have to mean a breakup.

Useful Links

Is your relationship worth saving? Watch on YouTube

Five things to think about before you end your marriage

What to do if you think your marriage is over

Finding the unexpected joy of heartbreak: Webinar with author and comedian Rosie Wilby

Should I stay or should I go?

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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