As soon as two individuals become a couple, they begin to co-create boundaries. At times these “contracts” are negotiated explicitly, but more frequently than not, they are dealt with through experience.
One tests the limits of what is acceptable before triggering the sensitivities of the other. Couples intuit many aspects of reading and interpreting one another’s cues. They sort through pre-existing relationships, assessing the role each will play in each other’s lives.
Ex-lovers are often a hot button and the decision to be open about them and how much sharing is appropriate can be tricky. Couples make agreements about whether or not it is permissible to stay in contact with ex-partners and/or whether or not to see them.
Areas of privacy in the coupleship are delineated as well as areas of togetherness. The most significant of all boundaries is fidelity because fidelity is what establishes the couple’s union.
In American culture with a 50% divorce rate divorce has become a cultural norm. We are unable to tolerate infidelity. We prefer to obliterate a relationship and sometimes an entire family rather than to threaten its structure.
Monogamy is considered an absolute. Because we are so terrified by the idea that our partners could betray us, we avoid negotiating concrete boundaries of exclusivity that it borders on denial. We continue to cling to the idea and expectation of concrete monogamy. But is it really that concrete?
Relationships are built on mutual respect and trust, trust that our partners will protect our hearts and will not hurt us. Therefore, “micro-cheating”, which can be defined as a series of seemingly innocuous behaviors that, in and of themselves, may not seem significant but when viewed together resemble an emotional affair.
Although it may not constitute physical infidelity, it is a form of relational betrayal and can feel even more painful and humiliating to the betrayed partner. These indignities are a form of covert micro-aggressions, intentionally or unintentionally communicating hostility.
These behaviors often become progressive, escalating to something more serious or overt. Although if examined individually these behaviors might not seem extremely serious, the fact that they are more often than not committed unbeknownst to the partner makes them even more insidious and damaging.
Covert aggression is a form of interpersonal manipulation. The perpetrator assumes the other will not trust his or her intuition, or they may even use tactics, such as gaslighting, psychologically manipulating someone to question his or her sanity, reality, or self-worth.
Covert fighters are deceptive. They aim to dominate and control in subtle, underhanded ways, masking their true intentions.
A tell-tale sign that one is “micro-cheating” is that he or she is engaging in behaviors that would create significant discomfort for the partner if the partner knew.
They are a violation of relational boundaries upon which two people have agreed. They are not only disrespectful, but they also violate trust, which is extremely difficult to repair.
There is an element of dishonesty, whether the person is omitting truth or blatantly lying. Most people who dabble in these behaviors would be crushed to discover their partners were behaving similarly behind their backs.
Essentially it is extremely selfish and entitled to commit an act one knows would hurt his or her partner in secret. Commitment is about what is best for “us,” not just what is best for “me.”
Therefore, if someone is consistently feeling tempted to act out, he or she should seriously consider whether or not they want to remain in a committed relationship.
Warning Signs That Your Partner is “Micro-cheating”:
- He or she is either over- or under-mentioning a certain person.
- He or she has started putting passwords on devices.
- One notices his or her partner has suddenly not been wearing his/her wedding ring.
- He/she has started dressing differently when going to see a certain person.
- One starts noticing inconsistencies in his/her partner’s stories or catching him/her in lies.
- He/she has suddenly been spending an exorbitant amount of time on social media.
- There are sudden changes in behavior or routines, like suddenly obsessively going to the gym.
- One’s partner suddenly starts developing new interests, such as football, yoga, politics, salsa dancing, etc.
General Examples of “Micro-Cheating” Include:
“Intriguing,” the term used to describe the act of romantic intrigue, the high that comes from seeking a romantic connection with another person, involves flirting intended to seduce.
These behaviors may include sexting with anyone other than one’s partner, confessing one’s attraction to another person, making explicit compliments to someone about specific body parts, going out of one’s way to tell someone it was nice to see them, doing excessive favors for someone in order to gain favor, late night texts or messages, giving details about one’s own sex life or sexual behavior, going out of one’s way to excessively converse with someone else.
Re-engaging an Ex
It is not uncommon in healthy relationships to have some boundaries around contact with exes. Exes can feel threatening to a relationship due to the history of shared intimacy.
Sometimes relationships end due to various factors even though there are still deep feelings between the couple. Finding out one’s partner has been engaging in inappropriate behavior with an ex without his or her knowledge can feel like a major betrayal.
These behaviors may include secretly communicating with or contacting an ex, obsessively following or commenting on an ex’s social media posts, cuddling with an ex, confiding in an ex about one’s current partner, continuing to engage in shared inside jokes, downplaying seriousness of one’s primary relationship, or sending an ex photos of “old times.”
The Emotional Affair
An emotional affair involves someone investing his or her emotional energy outside the marriage or primary relationship. He or she may also receive emotional support and companionship from the new relationship.
One may feel closer to the other person or may even begin to struggle with increasing sexual tension or chemistry.
This type of relationship may begin with sharing secrets or intimate feelings with someone to whom one is attracted instead of or before sharing these things with one’s partner.
In an emotional affair, there is an inappropriate level of intimacy, which usually depletes the primary relationship of closeness. It is impossible to show up fully and be present in a relationship if one’s attention is focused elsewhere.
Omitting truth is a form of dishonesty as well as other deceptive behavior, such as lying about one’s relationship status on social media, listing others under fake names in contacts, minimizing the seriousness of one’s primary relationship, intentionally not wearing one’s wedding ring, lying about dinner or drinks with another person.
It is important to check in with one’s partner from time to time to discuss and redefine the boundaries of the relationship if need be especially if one is beginning to sense some distance or if one is noticing certain changes.
So, how does one determine if his or her partner is “micro cheating” or when to become suspicious?
 Katherine, A. (1991). Boundaries: Where you end and I begin. New York: MJF Books.
 Mackenzie, J. (2019). Whole Again: Healing your Heart and Rediscovering your True Self After Toxic Relationships and Emotional Abuse. Place of publication not identified: PENGUIN Books.
 Manning-Schaffel, V. (2018, September 16). Is 'micro-cheating' really cheating? It depends, experts say. Retrieved January 21, 2019, from https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/what-micro-cheating-does-it-really-count-ncna905206
 Perel, E. (2007). Mating in captivity: Unlocking erotic intelligence. New York: Harper.
 Perel, E. (2017). The state of affairs: Rethinking infidelity. HarperCollins.
 Sardis, S. A., Ph.D. (2017, January 22). 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting. Retrieved January 21, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting
 Smith, K. (2016, May 09). 5 Signs of Covert Aggression. Retrieved January 21, 2019, from https://exploringyourmind.com/5-signs-covert-aggression/