Micro Cheating – How to Deal with Your Partner’s Flirty Habits

If you’re a little uncomfy with your partner’s flirty texting habits, read this article about micro cheating.

Amanda Pasciucco, PhD, LMFT, CST and Life Coaching and Therapy Owner was interviewed for Women’s Health article, “What is Micro-Cheating, And How Should I Handle It In A Relationship?” Written By Jordana Comiter, Published

Picture this: Your friend has been in a happy, healthy, monogamous relationship—that is, until the internet convinced her otherwise. She confides in you that behaviors she thought were normal (e.g., following their exes on Instagram and liking their friends’ “thirst traps”), are actually a huge red flag, according to TikTok. Now, she’s concerned that her partner’s cheating—sorry, micro-cheating.

There are dozens of videos by podcast hosts, dating coaches, and other digital creators introducing the internet to infidelity’s newest subgenre, leading people to second-guess their partner’s behaviors. One user wondered, “Is my boyfriend finding other women attractive micro-cheating?” And another asked, “What about lunch with work wives?”

These examples might sound a little extreme, but micro-cheating—or small behaviors that aren’t quite cheating, but still a betrayal of your partner’s trust—can be just as painful to the non-cheating partner as physical infidelity.

But, the good news: There are ways to address these feelings (and your S.O.’s behavior!) so you and your partner can be on the same page about what a committed relationship looks like.

What is considered micro-cheating?

Micro-cheating is typically characterized by small actions that don’t cross over to infidelity, but often give the impression of infidelity to the non-cheating partner, says Amanda Pasciucco, PhD, LMFT, a sex therapist based in West Hartford, Connecticut. It “refers to breaches of trust within a romantic partnership that do not escalate into physical infidelity.”

Behaviors that can fall under the micro-cheating umbrella don’t always mean your partner wants to cheat; in fact, they may not even realize they’re betraying you. Oftentimes, micro-cheating takes the form of small, unintentionally hurtful actions, but even seemingly minor transgressions can be extremely painful to the faithful partner.

If you’re the one micro-cheating, you might not be going out of your way to have an affair or hurt your partner—but you are connecting with someone in a way that feels inappropriate, wherein “if your partner found out, they would be uncomfortable,” says Morgan Anderson, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, relationship coach, and author of Love Magnet. Choosing to act this way can sometimes be a symptom of feeling anger, hurt, or disconnect toward a partner, she adds.

Since micro-cheating is about small behaviors and habits, everyone has a different definition of what constitutes it, says Jaime Bronstein, LCSW, a licensed relationship therapist and author of MAN*ifesting: A Step-By-Step Guide to Attracting the Love That’s Meant for You. “What is okay in certain relationships might not be in others, because it depends on the two people involved,” she explains.

Still, here are a few examples of common behaviors that someone might view as micro-cheating, according to the experts:

  • Dating profiles: having an online dating profile (even if not actively using it) to see what else is out there.
  • Physical contact: any kind of physical interaction that feels intimate, like holding hands with or massaging a friend.
  • Social media interactions: chatting with an ex online, following people on Instagram for the sole purpose of physical attraction and engaging in their content, or directly messaging someone in a flirtatious way.
  • Flirting: flirtatious behavior, whether it’s in-person (e.g., overly complimenting a mutual friend) or digitally (e.g., sexting).

What’s the difference between micro-cheating and emotional cheating?

Emotional cheating, according to Pasciucco, is a little more intimate than micro-cheating, and it typically grows and escalates over time. “If there is building communication—whether through frequency, pet names, sharing, vulnerability, listening, problem-solving, et cetera—that would be considered emotional infidelity,” she says.

However, since micro-cheating is so subjective to a person’s views and comfort level, one person’s definition of micro-cheating might overlap with another person’s definition of emotional cheating. In fact, according to Bronstein, micro-cheating is a form of emotional cheating. “If any type of physical cheating is cheating, then anything in the in-between [like emotional cheating] is micro-cheating,” she says.

So…is micro-cheating harmful?

Not only can micro-cheating hurt the faithful partner, but it can permanently wound the relationship, according to the experts.

For starters, the person being micro-cheated on often feels disrespected, or like they are not enough for their partner, says Pasciucco. As for the relationship, this behavior can lead to similar trust issues that might result from physical cheating, she adds.

That said, relationships aren’t one-size-fits-all—and people’s definitions of commitment, fidelity, and cheating might differ. The level of harm caused by micro-cheating will vary among individuals and couples because it comes down to the rules determined by your partnership, your comfort level, and the intention behind the action.

Non-monogamous vs. monogamous

An important note: If you’re in an open or polyamorous relationship, it’s still possible to emotionally (or sexually) cheat. Ideally, people who are in open partnerships or polyamorous relationships have established policies. For them, a dating profile might be part of their agreement—but they might be hurt by the amount of additional dates their partner is going on, or by the level of attention given to a third party.

But even in monogamous relationships, everyone has a different threshold for what they consider offensive, Pasciucco explains. Some might be insulted by their partner watching porn, while others might not care because “porn isn’t a person.” Or perhaps, you don’t mind your partner following their exes on social media, but it makes them insecure if you follow yours.

Meanwhile, for others, it comes down to the micro-cheater’s objective. For example, there’s a difference between somebody simply forgetting their wedding ring at home or purposely going empty-handed with the intention to signal single status, Pasciucco says. To determine the objective of the action, Anderson suggests looking for a few signs: Are they being secretive? Do they seem distant? Are they overreacting to your questioning?

At what point am I overreacting?

If your partner’s behavior is bothering you, you’re allowed to communicate that even if your partner views their actions as normal, Pasciucco says. Hopefully, you can get on the same page. But maybe they aren’t interested in changing their habits, and that’s okay. Just like it’s okay if you decide you don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who can’t meet you where you’re at.

While you’re certainly allowed to have boundaries and expectations in a relationship, you might be hurting yourself if you sound the alarm every time your partner hits “like” on an Instagram photo. In some cases, those trust issues can become a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” Bronstein adds. If someone shows a lot of insecurity and distrust, that partner might end up actually cheating since you think they are cheating anyway, she explains.

For those that have encountered betrayal or infidelity in the past, you might be particularly scared of cheating—which is understandable. Many people go into a new relationship and second-guess their partner’s actions. They think they’ll behave the same way an ex did, says Bronstein. “Because you’re on edge, you look at that new person as guilty until proven innocent, rather than innocent until proven guilty.”

All three experts recommend working through your trauma and fears through therapy and/or productive conversations with your partner. Because if you show up to a future relationship with unresolved issues, it can be hard to differentiate between your insecurities and your intuition, Bronstein explains. For example, say a past partner micro-cheated through texting interactions, you might overanalyze or overreact to a future partner’s phone use, adds Anderson.

What should I do if my partner is micro-cheating on me?

When you believe your partner is micro-cheating on you, all three experts advise having an open, honest, and direct conversation with them. And they have a few tips for doing so:

1. Set rules/boundaries ahead of time.

This one’s more of a preventative measure, but since every relationship is different, it’s important to establish ground rules. If you’re entering a polyamorous and/or open relationship, have an explicit conversation about what your boundaries are. And if you’re in a monogamous relationship, discuss what monogamy and exclusivity mean to both of you.

“If you want to have a long-lasting, healthy relationship, having a conversation about the bounds of fidelity in their relationship is a really important place to start to get closer,” Pasciucco says. “And if you’ve never explicitly said things are problematic to you, you’re just assuming your partner has been in your brain your whole life.” Spoiler alert: They’re not, so if you haven’t had that conversation, it’s time to pencil it in.

Bronstein even recommends documenting the agreed-upon boundaries to refer back to. Whether that means a few bullet points in your notes app or a signed, hand-written note, creating some kind of “relationship bible” or “contract” is key to clear communication.

2. Approach your conversation calmly.

Rather than show up with anger, be vulnerable and “lead with curiosity,” says Anderson. If your partner has a habit of flirting online with their exes, ask them where this behavior is coming from. You might say, “I’ve noticed that you still DM your exes and respond to their Instagram Stories. Is something off in our relationship, or is there another reason you’re doing this? I want to work on this with you.”

3. Use “I” statements.

Using “I” statements can also be beneficial, Bronstein adds. Share how something makes you feel, and then give your partner the space to share their perspective, she explains. So, instead of saying, “You’re cheating on me by being handsy with friends,” try something like, “I felt uncomfortable and confused when I saw photos of you cuddling with a friend the other night.”

Here’s why it works: If you start by critiquing their behavior, “the other person might get defensive, but by sharing just how you’re feeling, the other person can decide to react however they want,” she says. And hopefully, this leads them to feel empathetic and validate your feelings, rather than get defensive over feeling accused.

4. Revisit your “rules” whenever you need to.

Your comfort level might change over time—and that’s totally okay. For example, maybe you thought you were okay with your S.O. maintaining a friendly relationship with an old hookup, but as your relationship grows more serious, it starts to make you uncomfortable. If you do choose to write up a “contract,” set up regular intervals to revisit and discuss your rules, suggests Bronstein.

Ultimately, while everyone can hope for a positive reaction to a clear conversation about micro-cheating, that might not always be the case. If you’ve addressed how your partner’s behavior has made you feel and your partner doesn’t stop, “you have to be honest with yourself about what your needs are in a relationship,” Anderson says. Because if that person cannot create a healthy, secure relationship with you—or you have different ideas of what constitutes commitment—it might be time to move on.



Jordana Comiter (she/her) is a freelance writer from South Florida and a graduate of Tulane University and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She loves covering all things lifestyle, including dating, entertainment + pop culture, health + wellness, travel, and more. When she’s not writing, she enjoys group fitness classes, wholesome romance novels, and live music.