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Katie Byrne: Does ‘micro-cheating’ legitimise relationship insecurities?


Pillow gawk: We spend more time staring into the screens of our smartphones than we do into the eyes of our beloveds

Pillow gawk: We spend more time staring into the screens of our smartphones than we do into the eyes of our beloveds

Pillow gawk: We spend more time staring into the screens of our smartphones than we do into the eyes of our beloveds

Did you smile for just a little bit too long at the handsome barista who passed you your coffee this morning? Did you steal a glance at your ex's Facebook page to break the monotony of the long bus journey? Did you forget, for even the briefest of moments, that you shouldn't show interest in anyone other than your beloved?

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it transpires that you're a 'micro-cheater'.

The definition of cheating used to be fairly cut and dry. We had serial cheaters, we had one-off cheaters and we had those who didn't differentiate between the two: once a cheater, always a cheater, and all that.

In recent years, however, a new type of infidelity has come to the fore, and it isn't sealed with a kiss. There is no lipstick on the collar or inexplicable purchases on the credit card statement. There are no secret rendezvous or clandestine hotel trips.

If macro-cheating is the big, bad sexual indiscretion, then micro-cheating is the teeny-tiny impropriety.

To quote psychologist Melanie Schilling, micro-cheating is "a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship".

Schilling says micro-cheating occurs when you "secretly connect with another person on social media, if you share private jokes, (or) if you downplay the seriousness of your relationship to your partner".

Dr Martin Graff, the psychologist who coined the term, says it could even be "something as simple as repeatedly 'liking' someone's posts on Instagram or commenting on someone's Facebook".

There is no universal standard for micro-cheating but examples abound now that the concept is officially trending.

Some of these examples are well-founded: for instance, it's hard to understand why a person would continue to keep the Tinder app on their phone when they're in a relationship.

And some of the examples sound disturbingly like mind control. Take, for instance, the writer who believes a man is micro-cheating when he closes his eyes to "daydream about the girl he's crushing on".

Look around the internet and you'll discover a deluge of prescriptive listicles that detail the various scenarios that constitute micro-cheating, yet none of them acknowledge the simple fact that boundaries differ from relationship to relationship.

Neither do they acknowledge the fact that these boundaries are fluid: they ebb and flow according to how secure we feel in the relationship, and how secure we feel in ourselves.

For instance, if you're feeling overweight and unattractive, then discovering that your partner has been in contact with his ex will sting a lot more.

Likewise, if you were made redundant tomorrow, your wife's 'work husband' would probably begin to pose more of a threat to your ego.

The trouble is that some people are insecure by nature. They covertly read their partner's text messages when they're in the shower and they get jealous over the amount of attention that is bestowed on the cat. A therapist would help them overcome their irrational jealousy but the micro-cheating movement tells them they were right all along.

There is a big difference between being emotionally intimate with another person and being emotionally unfaithful. The former is characterised by affinity, the latter by secrecy. Still, some people just can't see the distinction.

They have bought into the pervasive fallacy that romantic relationships are the be-all and end-all of human connection.

They expect their partner to be their lover and their best friend, their confidante and their cheerleader, their mentor and their counsellor. They labour under the delusion that a romantic relationship hot-wires the brain's biology, making sexual attraction with anyone outside the relationship unnatural. Ostensibly, they're in a romantic relationship; actually, they're in a cult that only has two members.

In many ways, micro-cheating legitimises these controlling relationships, just as it peddles the myth that a romantic relationship should fulfil all of your emotional needs.

Let's face it, the modern world isn't exactly conducive to long-term monogamy - we're living longer and working harder; we spend more time staring into the screens of our smartphones than we do gazing into the eyes of our beloveds.

Considering the challenges, we should be looking at ways to make modern relationships more tolerant - and less oppressive.

Irish Independent