In a committed relationship, cheating comes in many forms. It can be as big as a long-term affair with one’s best friend. It can be as small as texting a co-worker. “Micro-cheating,” as it’s called, can include:
- Keeping an active dating profile
- Poring over an ex’s social media
- Dressing up for someone not your partner
- Sending flirty texts that your partner doesn’t know about
- Keeping a secret Facebook account to exchange hot photos with an ex
- Flirting with a co-worker
- watching porn via Skype
It’s easy to see how the lines get blurred in a world where we advertise our every move: the airport we just checked into via Facebook, the food we’re eating sent by Instagram, or the random thoughts we tweet without the benefit of thoughtful reflection. When we constantly expose our private selves indiscriminately, we become emotionally desensitized.
Meanwhile, our actual relationships have to compete with smartphones, addictive video games, and online pornography to suit every taste. Social media’s quick boredom fix is always within reach; micro-cheating is another such fix, and secrecy is part of the thrill. And kissy faces and hearts, or playful comments, can give way to romantic fantasies.
That’s the problem with flirting via text message. Some may justify it as just one screen talking to another, but secret flirting is an unhealthy way of growing our fantasies about someone outside of our committed relationship. And those musings sometimes don’t feel unhealthy; in fact, these fantasy relationships can actually feel closer to our authentic selves (or the selves we think we should be). New love makes us come alive again; it’s risky and exciting, pushing our established boundaries.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with some fantasy and flirtation. You don’t have to tell your partner every romantic idea that crosses your mind. That would stifle fun and creativity—qualities that we can take back to our partner because we feel good about ourselves and our desirability. But with micro-cheating, the fantasy is based on something other than the trust, commitment, and intimacy of a real relationship. It’s easier to exchange sweet talk and confidences with someone we barely know (or more likely, think we know) than it is, for example, to have an intimate and difficult discussion with a spouse of 10 years about unhappiness in the bedroom. But it’s in just such ways that real love is made.
Even new relationships are not immune to the need for self-disclosure and uncomfortable discussions; most people get on each other’s nerves after two weeks of being alone together. Maintaining romance is tough when we become acutely aware of our partner’s belches and farts and annoying habits we didn’t notice when we were dating. It’s easy to see why the new, mysterious other person is alluring and fascinating, and why we can more easily present a self-flattering front, especially when nothing much is required of us but sending a sexy text when and as we please. It’s a low-cost endeavor because it exists in fantasy—but no real person can compete with a fantasy.
Originally published on WebMD
couples counseling, and Mindfulness-based therapies in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 20 years.
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