“Honey, I Just Liked a Post!” & Other Forms of Micro-Cheating: Should You Be Worried?

Displeased couple sitting back to back on couch

Infidelity happens. According to the General Social Survey (GSS), as reported by the Institute for Family Studies, 20 percent of men and 13 percent of women confess that they have slept with someone other than their spouse while married. Though extramarital sex is easy to define as cheating, the discussion of what classifies as an affair can get tricky when you add texting and social media to the mix.

A Different Kind of Cheating?

Micro-cheating is the latest buzzword on discussions of infidelity. It refers to a series of seemingly small or innocent actions that indicate a spouse is emotionally focusing on someone outside the marriage. While there is no physical consideration, texting with emojis or simply “liking” a post can lead to an emotional affair.

Virtually anything counts as micro-cheating, depending on someone’s values, beliefs, and relationship priorities. One of the most common forms of micro-cheating includes frequent social media or text communication with an old flame or potential partner.

Should It Be a Problem?

At its core, micro-cheating might not be a cause for concern. It’s only when a partner crosses a line — either physically or emotionally — that serious action is necessary. Jayson Dibble, an associate professor of communication at Hope College, believes it’s human nature to “be on the lookout for potential mates.” In fact, he says that flirting outside the relationship can be harmless.

Dibble adds that this type of flirting gives you a dopamine hit or a quick ego boost, which he believes is necessary for keeping the flames going in a relationship.

The limitation to Dibble’s claims — and to all forms of micro-cheating — is that you or your partner might not agree with your actions. Keep in mind that not all people are comfortable with the idea of their partner flirting online.

What Should You Do About Micro-Cheating?

For The Marriage and Family Clinic, a provider of counseling services, resolving negative communication cycles is one of the best ways to get your marriage back on track. Couples should practice proactive communication to discuss relationship boundaries before a “harmless” text becomes an issue. This prevents resentments from occurring in the future.

Have a healthy conversation with your spouse regularly. Remember: ideas change; their opinion on certain relationship issues will evolve. It’s best to stay on the same page by regularly talking about the relationship.

How you talk about the issue also matters. If you’re uncomfortable with your partner’s activities, you’ll have a more productive conversation by objectively confronting them. Do not attack your spouse by accusing them; instead, be honest with your feelings and make an effort to listen to their concerns.

It helps to include a professional in the mix. Marriage counselors can help you identify unmet needs in the relationship (which resulted in the micro-cheating) and determine your next steps.

Whether micro-cheating is okay or not is up for discussion between spouses. The important thing, however, is to establish boundaries right off the bat. If liking someone’s Instagram post or chatting with strangers online bothers you or your spouse, pause and talk about it.