What Is Micro-Cheating? Experts Explain Whether Or Not This Really Counts As Infidelity

Staying up to snuff on all of the newest dating trends and terminology can be super tricky, especially when it comes to certain gray areas that can be particularly hard to universally define, like micro-cheating. Upon first hearing the phrase used, I couldn't help but roll my eyes. Even after one of my friends broke it down for me, I still found myself wondering, what is micro-cheating actually? And if it is what I think it is, is it really a legitimate form of infidelity? Well, the short answer is, it totally depends.

"Micro-cheating is inappropriate sexual flirtation via social media from someone who's already in a relationship, NYC relationship expert Susan Winter tells Elite Daily. "And, it may also be an in-person office flirtation that remains verbal, rather than physical."

However, the reason micro-cheating is not a black and white issue is because not everyone defines inappropriate behavior in the same way. Some people consider flirting with other people to be OK in certain situations as long as it doesn't turn into anything physical, or emotional. Oftentimes in relationships, partners don't take the time to specifically define behavior they would consider to be a breach of trust. According to Anita A. Chlipala, a dating expert and licensed marriage therapist, by not having conversations about what each one of us feels is or isn't OK, space is left open for a partner to make assumptions that may not be accurate.

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"What one person considers micro-cheating another thinks of as full-blown cheating," Chlipala tells Elite Daily. "The problem is that most couples don't define 'cheating' and so it's easier to take steps that set you down the path of having an affair."

Although micro-cheating might not be on the same level as having a physical or emotional affair (technically excluding it from the category of "infidelity" depending on you and your partner's beliefs) it still could have a negative impact on your relationship.

"The most important factor is secrecy," explains Chlipala. "Being deliberately sneaky and hiding things is a huge warning sign you're doing something you probably shouldn't be doing."

A good rule of thumb is to think about if you would feel comfortable telling your partner about your behavior. Personally, I think flirting with other people is normal and can even keep the spark alive when you've been together for a while. If my partner told me that they had a flirtatious conversation with someone at a bar, I might feel a twinge of jealousy but I wouldn't define that as cheating in any sense — especially if they were honest about it.

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"For example, having a drink with a coworker may not be cheating," says Chlipala. "But, having a drink with a coworker whom you find intriguing and not telling your partner about it may be considered micro-cheating."

So, why is micro-cheating harmful?

According to Winter, micro-cheating is "testing the waters of one’s desirability," meaning that it has the potential to escalate to full-blown cheating.

"It's a way to tiptoe to the edge of cheating without fully jumping in," warns Winter. "However, oftentimes getting that close to the edge allows a full leap to occur."

Even if micro-cheating doesn't lead to an affair, if you aren't sure if your partner would be upset by your behavior, then start a conversation about it. Find out how they feel about these gray areas and if they would consider them to be a threat to your relationship. Once you have a clear picture of their feelings and expectations you can move forward with a clear definition of what micro-cheating means for the both of you.

"Micro-cheating behaviors break trust," explains Chlipala.

Having a foundation of total trust is really important to maintain a healthy relationship. So, instead of assuming anything other than physical or emotional cheating is OK, make sure you and your partner are on the same page.

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