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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Relationships: What is Micro-Cheating?

It's getting increasingly difficult to define cheating these days, especially when you consider everything there is to take into account today regarding emotional affairs, social media, and flirting (see my articles: Relationships: Are You Having an Emotional Affair? and Stuck in a Codependent Relationship With Your Ex? ).  The topic I'm focusing on in this article is micro-cheating.

Relationships: What is Micro-Cheating?

What is Micro-Cheating?
It used to be generally accepted that cheating meant getting sexually involved with someone outside your relationship.  But it's much more complicated than this because there is behavior that you can engage in, short of getting sexually involved, that is called micro-cheating and there are many more ways to do micro-cheating now than there were ever before.

Micro-cheating is a more subtle form of cheating.  It generally consists of one or more of the following behaviors:
  • Being secretly flirtatious in person, in texts or social media with someone outside your relationship, and you're doing this without disclosing it to your significant other (see my article: Infidelity on Social Media Sites).
  • Maintaining a secret relationship (even if you define it as a "friendship") with someone outside your relationship, including an ex or someone with whom you have a flirtatious relationship either in person, in texts or online
  • Developing an emotional affair with someone outside your relationship where you discuss your intimate emotions and other similar issues with this person instead of confiding in your significant other, and your significant other doesn't know about it
  • Getting together with someone where there is a flirtatious dynamic (either an ex or someone else) and keeping it a secret from your significant other
  • Getting together with someone, including an ex, where you know that this person is keeping your get-togethers a secret from his or her partner
  • Accepting phone calls, emails or texts from your ex even though you told your significant other that you're no longer associating with this person
And so on.

Micro-Cheating: Secrecy and Head Games
One of the keys to these situations is the secrecy involved.

Along with the secrecy, there's often a fair amount of head games going on.

In other words, when the person who is being secretive is caught by the significant other, s/he will often try to defend his or her behavior by saying that nothing sexual went on, the "friendship" is innocent, and other excuses that come across as disingenuous.

But the problem with this is that, even if nothing sexual is going on, why is this outside "friendship" being kept a secret?

Cheating often starts with secrecy and flirtation, so even if it's not currently sexual, when the "friendship" is being kept a secret, there's a potential for it to become sexual.

Many people engage in micro-cheating because it feels thrilling to them.  It gives them an ego boost and the secrecy and extra attention make it exciting.  

If you're an adult, there is also an element of immaturity involved because this behavior is somewhat adolescent.

If you're engaged in micro-cheating, you need to decide what's more important:  A boost to your ego or maintaining your relationship.

A Family History of Poor Boundaries
There are also some people who were raised in families where there were poor boundaries between family members.

People in these families might have grown up among adults where there were ambiguous relationships, so they never learned to maintain appropriate boundaries (see my articles: Relationships: Setting Healthy Boundaries).  As a result, this carries over into adult relationships.

How to Regain Trust in Your Relationship After Micro-Cheating (see my article: Relationships: Learning to Trust Again)

If you're involved in micro-cheating and it's affecting your relationship, there are ways to possibly regain trust in your relationship if the relationship is not beyond repair:
  • Start with being honest with yourself.  Being coy and making up excuses to yourself and your significant other is disingenuous and comes across as shady.  You know your intention.  Decide if it's more important to you to keep this other "friendship" than it is for you to maintain your relationship.  Don't try to rationalize it.  
  • Be honest with everyone involved.  If you want to maintain your relationship, either make sure that your significant other meets this "friend" and everyone involved knows that you're in an exclusive relationship and there is no possibility now or in the future of a romantic or sexual involvement between you and your friend.
  • Remember that your significant other is your primary relationship--not the "friend" that you're maintaining contact with on the side.  If your significant other doesn't feel comfortable with you having contact with your "friend," that should be your primary concern.  If not, maybe you're not ready to be in a relationship or you're not ready to be in the relationship that you're currently in.
  • If you've made a commitment to stop associating with this other person, keep your commitment.  Few things ruin a relationship more than your significant other discovering that you're not keeping your word because it means you're not trustworthy (see my article: Relationships and Broken Promises).
  • Take time to reflect on the meaning of your secret involvement with someone outside your relationship.  There are usually deeper issues involved.
Getting Help in Therapy
There are many people who have a pattern of having secret relationships outside of their relationship with their significant other.

As previously mentioned, people often try to find a way to rationalize their behavior to avoid feeling guilty and ashamed for maintaining these secret relationships.  They try to rationalize it to themselves and to their significant others, but it usually doesn't work.

If this is an ongoing issue, this is a troubling pattern and it calls into question the trustworthiness of the person who maintains these secret "friendships."

If you have a pattern of having secret "friendships" outside your relationship or if you're involved with someone who tends to do this, there is a lot at stake and you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to develop insight, discover the deeper meaning of your behavior, and make decisions about your integrity and your relationship (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to deal with issues around micro-cheating and emotional affairs.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.