Are You Micro-Cheating on Your Spouse?

man in bed texting; wife looks on with disapproval
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A new concept has been introduced into our relationship language: micro-cheating. The term describes small actions that suggest a person is "emotionally or physically focused" on someone else, per a 2017 HuffPost News article.

These activities may be interpreted as innocent, platonic or merely irritating, but they could really also signal that a partner is micro-cheating. Consider small actions such as ….

  • repeatedly liking an ex-boyfriend or -girlfriend's social media posts, especially if heart emoji are used
  • frequently texting someone of the opposite sex
  • sharing a private joke with a co-worker of the opposite sex

Don't let the word cheating trip you up because it usually means someone has been sexually unfaithful to a spouse. These behaviors don't necessarily cross physical boundaries such as kissing someone, so they're often tougher to pinpoint. However, these interactions may make your partner uncomfortable or prick your conscience.

Little acts of kindness

When a couple is first dating or engaged, infatuation flourishes. They invest in special ways to connect — micro-behaviors — like grabbing a favorite coffee drink and delivering it, making a special meal or leaving a sticky note with sweet words of affirmation.

Once married, a couple's attention may be drawn to other things such as building careers, raising children and keeping up a household. Couples also go through seasons of disconnection, conflict or even boredom. When little acts of kindness slowly decrease, it's easier to innocently replace some of these positive behaviors with micro-cheating behaviors.

As I read about the seemingly insignificant flirtations, I wondered, Have I ever micro-cheated? Taking time for an honest self-evaluation of misplaced affections can be key to continuing to build a healthy marriage relationship.

Micro-cheating self-evaluation

From my counseling experience, I've seen that each couple has differing standards about acceptable interactions with the opposite sex. Regardless of where you think the boundaries lie in your relationship, it is essential to evaluate three things:

1. Ask yourself whether you're seeking attention or approval from a member of the opposite sex through your interactions with him or her, no matter how trivial the actions might seem. If you're trying to have your emotional needs met from someone other than your spouse, decide if you should adjust any boundaries.

2. Have a conversation with your spouse about what you both consider micro-cheating. The question to ask your spouse is "What is a healthy balance of interaction with a person of the opposite sex outside of a marriage relationship?" Be open to your spouse's influence — the key being agreement on the acceptable boundaries. Then commit to uphold the standards.

3. Evaluate which positive micro-behaviors you have stopped doing within your relationship and return to the micro-behaviors you carried out early on with your spouse. Explain that you may need to strengthen your marriage so that neither of you are tempted to get your emotional needs met outside the marriage relationship.

Within a marriage relationship honor, value and great communication should be front and center. Stopping micro-cheating behaviors and adding back in loving micro-behaviors will most likely strengthen your marriage.

Erin Smalley serves as the marriage strategic spokesperson for Focus on the Family's marriage ministry and develops content for the marriage department.

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