What To Do If You Think Your Partner's Micro-Cheating On You, According To Experts
Confession time: I have definitely micro-cheated. At the time, it didn't have a fancy name, but I knew that what I was doing wasn't totally above board. Maybe I hadn't crossed the line, but I was definitely stepping on it. In my heart, I knew I was being shady, and that if the roles were reversed, I would be hurt. And yet, I justified it because it wasn’t technically cheating. But that's what makes micro-cheating so insidious: It thrives in the grey areas, so it's common not to know what to do if you think your partner’s micro-cheating, or really even exactly what micro-cheating is.
As Australian psychologist and consultant Melanie Schilling explained to Daily Mail Australia, micro-cheating is a series of subtle behaviors that indicate a person who is already in a committed relationship is also focusing emotionally or physically on someone else — and, importantly, that they keep it secret from their partner. For example, as NYC relationship expert Susan Winter explained to Elite Daily, “Micro-cheating [can be] sexual flirtation via social media from someone who’s already in a relationship," as can “in-person office flirtation that remains verbal, rather than physical.”
While the definition may be a little murky, there is nothing "grey" about the emotional and psychological toll it can have on your relationship and your partner, as anyone who has been on the receiving end can attest to. That’s because micro-cheating is the gaslighting of infidelity. It's easy for the micro-cheater to deny what they're doing, or even turn it around on their partner by calling them"paranoid." It’s extremely frustrating.
"Though on different levels, micro-cheating can be just as destructive as full-on physical cheating," Winter warned, adding, "It indicates some level of partner dissatisfaction, discontent or boredom. This blatant level of disrespect will erode the self-esteem of one’s partner." Sounds about right.
So, in that case, what should you do if you think your partner is micro-cheating? Well, here's what the experts say.
1. Figure out exactly what behavior is bothering you, and why.
Because micro-cheating is a fairly new concept (and by its nature, really subtle), you're going to want to do some due diligence before tackling the problem. You don't want to confront your partner with generalities and vague feelings because it will make it easy for them to dodge or gaslight you further. So, take the time to gather your receipts.
The first step is to trust your gut. As Pricilla Martinez, an online life coach at Blush, explained, one of the earliest signs of micro-cheating can be the sense that something is off in the relationship. “You're picking up on subtle cues you can’t quite put your finger on," Martinez told Elite Daily. "It feels like something about their relationship is different than the way he or she interacts with others." But sensing there is a problem, and being able to articulate exactly what it is, are two different things. This is just the first step.
Before you rush into confrontation and accusation, first take the time to identify what specific behavior is bothering you and if it qualifies as micro-cheating. While it can come in many forms, Dr. Gary Brown, licensed marriage and family therapist, said the clearest sign that your partner is micro-cheating is that they're often secretive, they hide things from you, or they're "using apps that automatically delete messages so your partner won’t find out."
Anita A. Chlipala, author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love, agrees that the key to clearly identifying if what your partner is doing is unacceptable is secrecy. "Being deliberately sneaky and hiding things is a huge warning sign you're doing something you probably shouldn't be doing," she said, adding, “For example, having a drink with a coworker may not be cheating, but having a drink with a coworker whom you find intriguing and not telling your partner about it may be considered micro-cheating."
2. Talk to your partner about how you're feeling, from a confident place.
Once you’ve figured out what exactly is bothering you, it’s time to talk to your partner. Lay out exactly what you have observed and how it makes you feel. Bringing the receipts to the conversation will help prevent them from gaslighting you further, and allow you to approach the conversation with confidence. And, when you talk to them, Pella Weisman, licensed psychotherapist and dating coach, advised, “Be direct about your fears.” Also, be direct about your boundaries, which is a conversation we aren't always good about having early on in the relationship.
"What one person considers micro-cheating, another thinks of as full-blown cheating," Chipala explained. "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." Here’s your chance to set the record straight. And even if they aren’t willing to own up to the cheating aspect, they should, at the very least, be willing to acknowledge your feelings and adjust their behavior.
3. If they dont respect your boundaries, it's time to GTFO.
If your partner is willing to hear you out and discuss reasonable boundaries moving forward, then great! Problem solved. However, if your partner continues to gaslight you, or refuses to respect your boundaries, well, it’s time to consider couples counseling or just exiting the relationship, stage left.
If that sounds drastic, remember: This is the kind of thing that can slowly sour and rot a relationship, so you end up in the same place, but with even more emotional scars. "Understand that your partner is extremely unhealthy and this relationship is toxic for you," said Winter. "Gaslighters don't give up their control with ease. Needing control is essential to their day-to-day functioning, so denial reigns supreme. They'll never admit they're gaslighting you, so give up hope for that realization."
If they're not going to address the root issues in your relationship, then your only real recourse is to cut out the toxicity and keep it moving, because you deserve better.
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