top of page

Is Your Partner Micro-Cheating?

Posted July 17, 2023 on Psychology Today

Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine

In our ever-changing world, we’re becoming more open to non-traditional relationship formulas — be it open relationships, live-apart marriages, or even lifelong singlehood. We are probably also seeing a rise in micro-cheating.

Micro-cheating involves actions or behaviors by your partner that make you question their emotional or physical commitment to your relationship. These can include actions like regularly texting someone they find attractive or obsessively liking their social media posts. Since these behaviors are not blatant instances of cheating, it can be tricky to confront or deal with a partner who may be micro-cheating. This can lead to a slow erosion of trust, which can spell disaster for your relationship.

Trusting your romantic partner is integral to a fulfilling and happy relationship. In fact, science tells us that having trust in a partner is crucial in predicting whether a relationship will remain free of troubles and turmoil. A 2020 study published in Psychological Reports found that a lack of trust in your partner can wreak havoc on your relationship, leading to emotional instability, conflicts, and even the intention to break up. What’s more, people who don’t trust their partner are more likely to snoop through their cell phones, which can make the problems worse. Here’s a warning sign that your partner may be micro-cheating and what you can do about it.

You Keep Uncovering Harmless Secrets About Your Partner’s Friendships

If you found out that your partner (with whom you share a monogamous relationship) slept with someone else a couple of months ago, you would naturally feel betrayed. It’s a simple case of cause and effect. On the other hand, if you found out from your partner that they have been having lunch with an attractive coworker for a few weeks now, you may find yourself in a more ambiguous spot when it comes to processing the information.

You might be inclined to do one of two things, neither of which is ideal:

  1. You might confront your partner on why this was kept a secret from you. In this case, your partner may feel you are accusing them of cheating or that you are insecure about your relationship with them. This can quickly go from a sensitive situation to one that could irreversibly degrade the trust you have built over time.

  2. You might ignore it as a piece of information that is not relevant to your relationship. In this case, you are giving your partner the benefit of the doubt and assuming they just forgot to mention it to you because it wasn’t important to them. However, it could also cause you to ruminate about what else they may have forgotten to mention.

What You Can Do About Uncovered Secrets

Rather than jump the gun on the issue, emotionally separate yourself from the information you just received. Weigh the signs that your relationship is strong, happy, and fulfilling against the signs that your partner has one foot out the door.

For instance, before you react to the secret that was kept from you, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How meaningful is this information to you?

  • Has your partner ever given you a reason to doubt their faithfulness?

  • Have you kept similar secrets from your partner? What was your motivation behind keeping this information secret from them?

Once you take a moment to collect your thoughts and assess the situation, explain to your partner that you were blindsided by the information they have just given you. As you broach the topic, it is important to maintain a tone of curiosity, not an accusatory one. Allow your partner to respond while keeping an open mind.

Remember, micro-cheating is more subjective than physical infidelity. Your partner most likely didn’t think much of their behavior, but that doesn’t mean that you have to sweep it under the rug.

As hard as it may be to hear, if your partner has a history of cheating, even the most innocuous behaviors that fit the description of micro-cheating should be viewed as a red flag. A 2018 study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found that people who had cheated in a previous relationship were three times more likely to cheat again in a subsequent relationship. This suggests that past infidelity is a strong predictor of future infidelity and that some people may have a tendency to engage in repeated acts of dishonesty or betrayal. Therefore, if you notice that your partner is frequently texting, flirting,or hiding things from you, and they have cheated before, you may want to reconsider whether you can trust them.

That said, all relationships are unique and each one is a work in progress. Some flirting outside the relationship is natural, according to Giulia Zoppolat, a psychologist and lead author of a 2022 study. "It is normal to have attractive alternatives in one's life; this is not necessarily a threat to your relationship," she noted. However, strong feelings of desire toward someone else can be stressful. The individual can acknowledge that mixed and conflicting feelings are normal in this situation." This does not mean that the relationship is necessarily doomed, just that it might require a bit more attention to sort out one's feelings and decide the best course of action, whatever that may be.”

Conclusion Understanding and addressing behaviors that border on infidelity require acknowledging that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The right resolution is unique to you and your partner. If you sense secrets being kept that cause feelings of betrayal, engage in an open dialogue with your partner. Clear communication rooted in empathy and understanding is the cornerstone of long-term relationship satisfaction. About the Author Jourdan Travers, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker. She received degrees from the University of Maryland and California State University Northridge.


bottom of page