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Here's Why Experts Say "Micro-Cheating" Will Destroy Your Relationship

You think you're just an innocent flirt. But are you?

Have you ever connected with a person of your preferred sex without telling your partner? Or shared an ongoing joke about the office with a colleague? Then you should be careful; because what was once simply considered "harmless flirting" is now called "micro-cheating."

Psychologist, Dr. Barbara Greenberg defined "micro-cheating" to CBS as "a small series of actions that don't quite meet the definition for cheating."

Melanie Schilling, an Australian psychologist, recently gave the Daily Mail some examples of micro-cheating, as well as some red flags to look out for if you suspect it's you or your partner might be doing it:

"You might be engaging in micro-cheating if you secretly connect with another person on social media, if you share private jokes, if you downplay the seriousness of your relationship to your partner or if you enter their name under a code in your phone. Other things you should look out for are if your partner is having private conversations or online chats that he/she quickly shuts down when you enter the room or if they are reaching out to an ex to mark an anniversary or other significant shared, intimate event…. If [your partner] starts to conceal their relationship from you or lie to you about it, then start considering the appropriateness of their connection. It's the secrecy and deception that accompanies the communication that defines it as micro-cheating."

Greenberg agrees that it's the deception that delineates it from friendship, saying, "The difference between friendship and micro-cheating is friendships are not usually kept secret, but when you're talking to somebody and keeping it secret, that starts to meet the definition of micro-cheating."

How, you might wonder, does it jeopardize a relationship? According to experts, "micro-cheating" could be a a gateway drug into a full-blown affair, a few seemingly harmless texts sending you down down a slippery into the realm of real infidelity. "What's perhaps more relevant is how habitual the behavior is. A serial micro-cheater could put more strain on the partner because it's not just a one-off behavior that the couple can work through by communicating with each other," Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told

Even if things don't progress to actual cheating, however, "micro-cheating" can breed jealousy and mistrust–two of the biggest relationship killers.

"Micro-cheating usually produces a change in attitude and behavior that signals to a partner that something strange is going on," Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka "Dr. Romance") psychotherapist and author of How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free 4th Editiontold "Ultimately, this causes jealousy and guilt that can affect his or her behavior and how he or she thinks of the partner. Without an open line of communication — and most importantly, trust — a relationship may suffer in the long-run."

It's true that most of the behavior above would induce jealousy and, in many cases, serious arguments between partners, and that honesty and communication are the foundation of a healthy relationship.

Still, many people on Twitter are arguing that this hipstery new term is not a thing. "I am not down with this 'micro-cheating' conversation which, to me, is all about straight people deciding never to have meaningful connections with people outside of their gender out of fear they will replace feelings for an SO [significant other]," reporter Casey Quinlan‏ wrote.

To differentiate between micro-cheating and acceptable behavior with one's preferred sex outside of a relationship, Dr. Schilling suggests trusting your gut. "You have intuition for a reason and it tells you when things are not right. If things don't add up, if you catch your partner in a lie, if they are behaving in an uncharacteristic way, bring it up," she said. "They key here is to be objective and rational, rather than subjective and emotional. Slinging empty accusations and insults will get you nowhere."

Perhaps instead of arguing about whether or not something constitutes as "micro-cheating" or not, we should endeavor to simply be kind and considerate to one another, treating each other as we'd like to be treated. If that's not occurring, then a conversation needs to happen, whether you or your partner's behavior falls into the above category or not.

For more great relationship advice, check out Secrets of the Best Relationships.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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