15/08/2017 2:07 PM AEST | Updated 15/08/2017 2:08 PM AEST

Micro-Cheating: What Is It And Does It Count?

Where is the line between being disloyal to your partner and having a life?

'Am I cheating?'

Chances are, if you're asking yourself that question, you know you're toeing the line of what's considered acceptable in a relationship.

While physical cheating is easy to define (did you exchange fluids? You cheated) emotional cheating or micro cheating is more of a grey area.

And where it gets even murkier is whether 'micro cheating' is even a bad thing at all. Isn't in our human nature to flirt? Where is the line between being disloyal to your partner and having a life?


What is micro-cheating?

"Micro-cheating is a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship," dating expert Melanie Schilling told HuffPost Australia.

Examples can include texting someone without your partner's knowledge, saving someone under a fake name in your phone or lying about the status of your relationship to others.

How do you know if you're doing it?

"You might be engaging in micro-cheating if you secretly connect with another guy/girl on social media; if you share private jokes; if you downplay the seriousness of your relationship to another guy/girl; or if you enter their name under a code in your phone," Schilling said.

"These are all signs that you are conducting a 'covert flirtation' and keeping it from your partner. If you feel you have something to hide, ask yourself why.

Signs your partner is micro-cheating

"Secrecy is the tell-tale sign," Schilling said. "Micro-cheating is a subtle betrayal and it needs secrecy to fuel its fire.

"If your partner is having private conversations or online chats that he/she quickly shuts down when you enter the room; if they are reaching out to an ex to mark an anniversary or other significant shared, intimate event; perhaps they are offering compliments to other guys/girls that they don't say to you; or maybe they meet up with someone of the opposite sex under the guise of a business meeting, when you discover no business was actually done... these are all signs to look out for."

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What's the difference between micro-cheating and a little harmless flirting?

How do I talk to them about it?

The problem with micro-cheating is that by its very nature, it's subtle. So if you feel you have reason to be concerned, you can fall into a trap of coming across as obsessive or overly jealous.

Of course, it could end up being a bit fat pile of nothing to worry about, so make sure your concerns are founded before you jump to conclusions.

"The key here is to be objective and rational, rather than subjective and emotional. Slinging empty accusations and insults will get you nowhere," Schilling advised.

Allowing micro-cheating to continue can set up a relationship pattern that undermines you and enables your partner to have their cake and eat it too.

"Be specific about the behaviours that you have observed, explain how they made you feel and ask for what you want.

"For example, 'When you spent an hour on the phone to your ex during our date-night dinner I felt left-out and pretty useless. I'd prefer it if you focused on me during our special nights together' or 'When you add all the heart emojis in her/his post comments it makes me feel like she/he is your partner, rather than me. Next time, it would be great if you could reserve the online love for me.'

What can micro-cheating lead to?

"Allowing micro-cheating to continue can set up a relationship pattern that undermines you and enables your partner to have their cake and eat it too," Schilling said.

"By allowing this, you are effectively saying 'It's ok to flirt with him/her, I'm happy to take second place and I don't really matter.'

"Over time, this can erode your self esteem and set you up to be the 'victim' in your relationship."

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If you're concerned about your partner's behaviour, talk to them about it.

However, it's important to note what could appear to be micro-cheating could be harmless behaviour. After all, everyone's allowed to flirt a little bit, right?

According to Schilling, the deciding factor all comes down to intention.

"The first thing you need to establish is the intention behind the behaviour," she said.

"If this is an unconscious habit your partner has developed over time, due to previous partners allowing it, then you have the opportunity to put your foot down and set some new rules.

"However, if this is something they are actively choosing to do, and they do not change when you ask them to, perhaps it's time to consider if this relationship is good for your well-being."