Micro-Cheating has garnered Macro-Attention. It’s a peculiar tension inducing oxymoron stirring as much uncertainty as these more familiar ones.
- Open secret
- Act naturally
- Jumbo shrimp
It’s difficult to know which half of the term has it right. Is it the first half that suggests that Micro-Cheating is just a small, insignificant and harmless matter? Or, would it be the second half that suggests it rises to the level of full-blown infidelity?
Micro-cheating involves ongoing romantically tinged interactions between a person in a committed relationship or marriage and a person outside of that relationship. The interactions can be mildly flirtatious and evoke feelings of closeness. Communications reside somewhere in the safe zone of friendship, acquaintance or colleague.
When a person is accused of Micro-Cheating, the behaviors that rattle their partner can easily be portrayed as perfectly benign and innocent. The uneasy feelings they provoke are readily dismissed or minimized with responses that sound perfectly logical and reasonable – on the surface.
Technically, the person in the committed relationship or marriage has not engaged in any overt behavior that would be considered an unquestionable act of betrayal, and yet something just doesn’t feel quite right. In other words, it just doesn’t pass the smell test.
Micro-cheating lurks in that slippery gray area provoking strong emotional responses, yet hard to pin down with precision.
To clarify, it’s more than a single momentary glance or fleeting attraction. It’s about ongoing interactions with someone outside the primary relationship that is categorized as a friendship or work associate.
Micro-Cheating interactions send shockwaves of worry through the committed relationship as the communications are intuitively recognized as precursors to the formation of a more significant romantic, emotional or sexual bond.
UNDERSTANDING THE ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP
If you whittle a committed romantic relationship down to it’s most essential elements, the romantic relationship primarily exists to meet the need for emotional and sexual intimacy. And when they overlay one another and operate in unison they serve to bond the couple helping them to form an attachment that is secure and certain.
When emotional and sexual intimacy needs are nurtured and protected they serve to help maintain a secure bond. A characteristic of a secure bond is found in the words of the old song lyrics that profess “I only have eyes for you.”
When the couple can create ‘a private world for just we two’ calm, comfort and peace of mind ensue. Each party rests assured that they are the single most important person to the other.
A FORTRESS OF PROTECTION
To protect the romantic relationship and maintain the required safety and security they require an impenetrable fortress of protection and air-tight safeguards need to exist. In general, nurturing both emotional and sexual intimacy (and not one or the other) tends to secure it. When partners can consistently turn to one another for emotional and sexual sharing – and repairs are made when there is difficulty – it tends to keep the relationship safe from outside interference.
The reverse is also true: when a romantic relationship has devolved into the dreaded ‘friend zone’ and couples find themselves ‘living like roommates’ it leaves one or both individuals vulnerable to the possibility of connecting with a person outside the relationship. Since romantic relations are just that – romantic – they need to be a place where softer, tender, sentimental and romantic feelings can have expression. When the sex and sentimentality fall by the wayside, neglected, it’s all too easy to turn one’s focus toward another who providing even just a small hint of attention.
The need for a wall of protection and safeguarding is much higher than most people realize.
THE IMPACT OF MICRO-CHEATING
The foundation of a secure connection is comprised of high levels of safety and trust. The relationship itself rests upon this all-important secure base. When a full-blown affair is discovered, it tosses the couple into a major crisis as it blows up the foundation placing the future of the relationship in jeopardy.
Micro-Cheating places a hairline fracture in the base and creates a dangerous fissure in the protective fortress leaving the relationship vulnerable to a greater intrusion.
Infidelity often begins with the less-threatening behaviors before it expands and develops into something more.
Micro-cheating sends tiny shockwaves and small cracks through the relationship holding the possibility that a greater connection could develop.
A DIRECT REFLECTION OF UNMET NEEDS
In my work with couples healing from the trauma of infidelity I have observed that the affair partner and the needs that are met in the outside-relationship precisely correlate to the unmet emotional needs within the primary relationship. The affair relationship serves as a type of mirrored reflection to the unmet emotional needs in the primary relationship with a great degree of predictability.
Here’s an example. Let’s suppose a relationship has progressed to the next level of commitment and one of the partners, recognizing the implications of this increased responsibility and the prospect of a future together, starts behaving more seriously. Their personality becomes more rigid, and a stern gloominess starts to appear.
The changed behavior is noted by the partner, but it isn’t understood or processed. They are not sure how to approach their loved one about their needs. They just feel frustrated, disappointed and confused.
Instead of addressing this change in their partner’s personality directly they begin to gravitate in a slow, mindless slide toward someone with whom the exchanges are lighter, more relaxed and playful.
The outside person and the nature of the connection is almost always a direct reflection an unmet need within the primary relationship
This phenomenon holds true whether it is a full-blown affair or is an act of Micro-Cheating.
MEANINGFUL WAYS TO RESPOND
If you find yourself engaged in Micro-Cheating behaviors, then you might ask yourself what relationship needs are being met with the Micro-Cheating partner. What feelings do they elicit in you? How do you feel about yourself when you interact with this person? What do you like about the feeling you get when you communicate with this person?
Pay close attention to what’s happening within your own relationship. What changes have taken place and how have they impacted your relationship? Which issues need to be addressed? What are the things that are causing you and your partner unease and distress? What things make you feel close and connected?
When you start to pay attention, you will likely find a direct correlation between your unmet relationship needs (the places where you are frustrated and disappointed) and the needs being met with the person outside your primary relationship.
If you are concerned about your partner’s ongoing interactions with another, rather than attack or accuse (as this just results in a defensiveness), try to talk with them about why the interactions trouble you. Include the fact that you love your partner and want to protect your relationship with him or her. Together, explore what it is your relationship that needs attention or adjustment.
Likewise, in examining the interactions between your partner and the other party pay attention to what needs your partner seems to be getting met from those communications. Do the interactions make your partner feel attractive? Are they paying attention to particular accomplishments or talents?
The best response to Micro-Cheating is to engage in an open and honest discussion with your partner about your relationship, your needs, your partner’s needs and how you can best meet those needs within your relationship.
Terri DiMatteo, LPC is the relationship and couples counselor at Open Door Therapy in Westfield, NJ. She specializes in helping couples ‘find their way back’.