Most young professionals know how trying (i.e. utterly exhausting) dating and relationships have become in our double-edge sword-filled digital age.
Since its arrival over a decade ago, social media has facilitated affairs, exposed affairs, broken up relationships, inspired blowout fights between couples, and triggered relationship anxiety. For all the good social media and modern day communication does in the dating department, there are some major drawbacks. Among them, the concept of micro-cheating.
While you may not be familiar with the term, you’ve probably experienced micro-cheating in some form. In our current era, cheating doesn’t have to be physical. Not at all, in fact. “Essentially, micro-cheating is a pattern of behaviour and actions that in and of themselves might seem small or insignificant, but show that the person in question is focusing energy, emotions, and effort on someone that is not in the relationship,” says Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer for BeenVerified, a leading source of online background checks. “While physical cheating is easy to define, the signs of micro-cheating aren’t always as clear.” By the same token, what is acceptable in a relationship may vary among couples. Some may have no problem with their partner “following” a sexy acquaintance on social media and “liking” all their content, while doing so may be grounds for breakups with other couples.
When it comes to following and liking, how much is too much? “If you’re in an actual relationship with someone and you’re engaged in this kind of behaviour behind your partner’s back, it could be considered walking a fine line. It’s normal to have friends and make friends through social media. However, you don’t typically have sexual attraction or flirt regularly with someone who’s just a friend,” said Carmelia Ray, a celebrity matchmaker & Chief Dating Advisor of WooYou App. “You draw the line if you know this behaviour would be uncomfortable for your partner, or you have an agreement not to do that. Dropping into someone’s DMs is considered very personal. If it’s not for business, where is it going? What’s the motive of the person who’s messaging you? You draw the line when there’s a strong attraction or the possibility to be tempted.”
How can you tell if your boyfriend or girlfriend is micro-cheating? Lavelle highlights five signs to indicate that you’re being micro-cheated on.
They Smile or Laugh at Their Phone a Lot
“The micro-cheater is obsessed with checking the social media feeds of the person they desire,” says Lavelle. “You may be able to detect this by paying attention to how much or often your partner is smiling or laughing at their phone – and if you’re not included in whatever funny thing is happening, watch out.” So, if you catch your partner with a goofy grin, it may not be about the inside jokes of the girls’ or guys’ group chat after all (don’t shoot the messenger).
They Get More Excited About Another Person’s Social Media Posts Than Yours
“Your partner might be micro-cheating if they are liking, commenting, or tagging themselves in another person’s social posts more than yours,” says Lavelle. Of course, to detect this behaviour in the first place requires quite a bit of effort. “I believe constantly creeping your partner’s social media causes certain couples unnecessary stress and anxiety. Trust is important to establish between couples, especially when it comes to social media etiquette,” says Ray. “If you find yourself addicted to your phone trying to figure out what your partner is doing, it’s time to reevaluate. Most couples have a really good idea of what their schedule is like. If you need to constantly monitor them on social media, it might mean you have some personal development to consider and too much time on your hands. Open up your lines of communication and figure out what you really want to know.” If the activity becomes impossible to ignore, however, that’s a different story (in my experience).
They Belittle and Downplay Your Relationship
“The micro-cheater doesn’t want to make it seem like you’re in a ‘serious’ relationship, even if you are living together or deleted your Tinder profiles,” says Lavelle. “They will belittle or downplay your relationship to the object of their attention.” They may purposely neglect to mention you in conversation with others (whether in front of you at a party, or behind your back at a conference), potentially trying to make it look like they are single. Of course, this type of behaviour is typically followed up with a social media add or follow, and a subsequent opening of the micro-cheating floodgates.
They Share Good News and Secrets with Someone Else First
“In a healthy, loving relationship, you should be the first person your partner goes to for sharing good news,” says Lavelle. “If not, you may be dealing with someone whose emotions are with someone else. When your partner confides or shares their secrets and emotions with someone that they are attracted to, that’s not a good sign.” Emotional cheating can cut as deeply as physical cheating, and is much easier for the micro-cheater to downplay or defend. That’s when your intuition comes into play, an often overlooked but incredibly important factor in the dating game. “If you think it’s cheating, it’s probably cheating,” says Ray.
They Send an Old Photo to Their Ex
“Your partner sending an old photo to an ex might mean they want to relive that memory or rekindle that flame,” says Lavelle. Of course, knowing about this likely involves going through your partner’s phone, which is rarely a good idea (trust me). An ex is an ex for a reason, and there’s no need to dig up the past with old photos of the dog – no matter how much you both love him.
If a sick feeling has already started to set in if any of these signs ring true in your relationship, take a deep breath and know that there is hope – sometimes, the person micro-cheating doesn’t even realize that they are doing it. First and foremost, you need to express what behaviours are bothering you. “Every couple is different, and what might be considered micro-cheating to one person might not be the same for someone else,” says Lavelle. “For any relationship to function, you must be on the same page.”
Make an effort to communicate with your partner and set terms you both agree on. “Have a conversation about what kind of behaviour on social media makes you nervous or uncomfortable,” says Roy. “Be open about your feelings and don’t hide anything.” Finally, for the potential micro-cheaters out there: avoid temptation and conversations that might lead you down the wrong path. “Going out with someone you are romantically interested in and hiding your relationship is considered micro-cheating,” says Roy. “Consider if you would be OK if your partner did the same thing to you.”