Learn The Signs Of Micro-Cheating


    7 Min Read


    When it comes to cheating on your partner we don’t typically think of there being any grey area. You either did, or you didn’t. But is it possible to cheat just a little bit?

    As it turns out, yes.


    So how do you recognize the signs of micro-cheating?

    You Know When You Cheat – Don’t You?

    Most of the time cheating is pretty straight forward, so yes – you should know when you’re cheating.

    If you sleep with someone else, kiss someone else, become emotionally involved with someone else, or secretively meet with someone else, you’re cheating.

    Micro-cheating is a bit different, however. It’s often done right out in the open and the person doing it may not even recognize that they have crossed a line.

    This often occurs under the guise of 'just being friendly' with the line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior becoming extremely blurry.


    Unfortunately, that’s one of the biggest problems. These subtle actions undermine a relationship and create problems that are hard to define, often until it’s too late.

    Seeing the signs of micro-cheating can be hard to do unless you know what to look for.

    Read on to see if any of these seem familiar.

    What Is Micro-Cheating?

    Before we talk about what micro-cheating looks like, let’s first make sure we understand what it is.

    While many don’t think there is a grey area when it comes to cheating, there actually can be. That’s where micro-cheating comes in.

    Infidelity is often comprised of a series of small (micro) behaviors that by themselves don’t seem like much. These behaviors, however, like being overly complimentary toward someone else or misrepresenting your current relationship status, create instability in a relationship.

    Over the long-term these things can lead to larger, more overt behaviors like starting an emotional affair or even a physical one.

    These seemingly insignificant actions can easily be overlooked and explained away. In fact, although they may make one partner uncomfortable, that same partner may say, "No, I don’t like it but he/she isn’t cheating on me.”

    So micro-cheating defined is all those small things that might make you angry, but by themselves aren’t quite enough to make you end the relationship.


    Dr. Kurt frequently counsels couples dealing with these issues. They may be struggling with trust issues and often micro-cheating has played a role. When asked about it, he had this to say,

    Isn't cheating just cheating? Not anymore. The lines between right and wrong have gotten so blurred and self-defined that there's now a sub-form of cheating called micro-cheating that can easily be overlooked today. Depending on where you fall in assessing your own behavior, you're likely to have a different response to the following list of examples of micro-cheating. If you do any of the things listed you likely will say you're 'just being friendly' or 'having fun' and have no intention to cheat. If you're that persons partner you very well may feel hurt, angry, betrayed and less trusting because of these behaviors. Bridging this difference in perspectives and feelings can be really difficult, but it must be done for the relationship to stay healthy and last."

    What Does Micro-Cheating Look Like?

    Micro-cheating can range from simple comments to subtle innuendo, to secretive behavior. It may even occur when the other partner is present or nearby.

    And rather than the sledge-hammer effect of having an affair, micro-cheating will slowly chip away at the relationship by creating distance and distrust.

    Below are some of the most common ways that people micro-cheat.

    1. Inappropriate social media posts. Social media is one of the most efficient venues for a micro-cheater. Most would agree that reconnecting with and ex and/or developing a private and close relationship with someone through social media is out of bounds, but there are many other ways that social media can help us cross the line.

    Posting provocative photos of yourself, known as thirst trapping, is one of them. In these cases, the photos serve no other purpose than to gain responses and attention from the opposite sex. Often the pictures involve little by the way of clothing, or at the least suggestive poses.

    1. Too much following or liking on social media. In keeping with social media dangers, if you’re so ingrained in someone else’s Instagram or Facebook profile that you’re constantly liking and commenting on status or pictures, you may be micro-cheating. Knowing everything that your hot co-worker is doing is not likely to go over well with your partner. Neither is following every attractive friend-of-a-friend that you meet.

    2. Fudging your relationship status. I know a group of women who go out once a month for what they call “PMS Night.” The protocol for this evening is to leave their wedding rings at home, dress for attention, dance, and see how many numbers and drinks they can get in one evening. They feel like this is innocent fun and a way to let off steam. Their husbands may not agree.

    Anytime you allow it to seem like you aren’t in a committed relationship when you are, it can be classified as micro-cheating. It doesn’t matter if it is at a club, at work, or online – you are either in a relationship or not. The answer shouldn’t change.

    1. Giving false hope for romance to someone else. You’ve probably seen this happen, or maybe even been involved in this conversation at some point.

    The, "Yes, we’re together, but I don’t know for how much longer, things aren’t going that well” exchange.

    It’s usually between a man and a woman with the intent to pique the interest of the opposite sex and indicate a possibility of being available for a new relationship in the future.


    your relationship in order to inspire the romantic interest of someone else is crossing the line and is an example of micro-cheating.

    1. Being overly complimentary toward someone else. “You look good – I mean really, REALLY good” isn’t the best way to greet someone outside of your relationship. Neither is gushing over someone’s brilliance or accomplishments.

      No one is saying that a well-placed compliment or recognizing someone’s achievements is a bad thing, but if you are overdoing it your intentions may well be misinterpreted or questioned.

    2. Having a “too close” friend of the opposite sex. It may seem innocent enough but having a bestie of the opposite sex can lead to problems within your marriage or relationship. If you’re sharing the exciting parts of your life with him or her first. or lamenting about your problems to them rather than your partner, you’ll create an emotional imbalance in your relationship. This can lead to distance and resentment on the part of your partner.

    3. Becoming too invested in someone else’s life and problems. You and your partner have chosen to share your lives. Between the two of you there will be more than enough issues and problems to go around. Becoming too involved with someone else’s can lead you down a slippery slope, not only in your own relationship, but also for the person you’re getting involved with. You may end up creating a dependency that is unhealthy and dealing with that can be very tricky.

    Any of the behaviors above can be signs of micro-cheating.

    Some may seem like they don’t really cross the line. I mean what’s really wrong with helping someone who has problems, or having a best friend of the opposite sex?

    The problem with these things is how they affect your relationship and why they are happening in the first place.

    Why Micro-Cheating Happens And What You Should Do About It

    If you feel like micro-cheating is occurring in your relationship you’ll need to,

    • Understand why

    • Be prepared to talk about it

    Micro-cheating, as mentioned, is an odd grey area of relationship infidelity.

    While some of the behaviors are clearly out of bounds (taking off your wedding ring and pretending you’re not married – not okay), others might seem more like an uncomfortable eye-brow raiser.

    If you recognize any of these actions in yourself or your partner, consider the why behind the cheating behavior.

    Common reasons micro-cheating occurs include:

    A narcissist will have a hard time seeing why their behavior is inappropriate. They’ll likely try to justify it as “not actually cheating.” This means that a heartfelt and honest conversation about the affect the behavior is having on you will need to occur. They’ll then need to be honest with themselves about the need to make a change and most likely will require counseling in order for the behavior to stop.

    In this case, a direct conversation is in order. This conversation may reveal that there are deeper issues and marriage counseling could be of benefit.

    • Inability to set boundaries. People who want to “help” every lonely or lost soul they meet can give the impression that their involvement is a sign of deeper feelings. Although this behavior isn’t intended to be damaging, it is, and the reasons for it can be problematic as well.

    This will require relearning what it means to be helpful and friendly and ways to set appropriate boundaries.

    Regardless as to the reason, there is one basic question that needs to be answered if you think you might be seeing signs of micro-cheating:

    How Is It Affecting Your Relationship?

    If your relationship is suffering because of micro-cheating and your partner’s behavior is making you feel,

    • Uncomfortable

    • Undervalued

    • Betrayed

    or they’re behaving with someone else in ways they should only behave with you, something needs to change.


    What To Take Away

    If you or your partner is being secretive about your activities, or doing things that make the other uncomfortable, you are undermining your relationship.

    If micro-cheating is a factor in your relationship, keep the following things in mind:

    • Micro-cheating can be hard to pinpoint, but if your partner is doing anything that seems out-of-bounds or makes you uncomfortable, it needs to be addressed.

    • Micro-cheating behaviors need to be stopped in order to keep your relationship healthy and safe.

    • Because they can seem minor as they are happening, effective communication is crucial to make sure your feelings about the behavior are clearly understood.

    • Timing is important as well, so that you’re communicating while the behavior is happening, rather than after a pattern has been established.

    • While micro-cheating doesn’t initially feel on the same level as sleeping with someone, over time it can have the same outcome – the end of the relationship.

    The bottom line is to trust your feelings. If you think you’re seeing the signs of micro-cheating you likely are.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published December 19, 2018 and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


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