This story originally appeared on the Lily.
“Micro-cheating” is the latest relationship buzzword to ricochet around the Internet — a space that is already overly saturated with phrases to make us question our relationships.
As you can maybe imagine, the phrase describes certain actions that aren’t as awful as your partner kissing or sleeping with someone who isn’t you, but that still make you feel like you’ve been cheating on.
But what is micro-cheating, exactly?
In an interview with Huffpost Australia, dating expert Melanie Schilling defined it as “a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside the relationship.”
She then goes on to list actions that range from fairly innocuous to maybe sinister — from having private jokes with another person, to keeping their name under code in your phone.
Others mention less impactful behavior as signs of micro-cheating. Liking an Instagram post, thinking about another person, and checking an ex’s social media all fall within this definition.
And that’s the issue. These small interactions may make you uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean your partner is cheating on you.
“It’s framing the relationship to seem like your partner should just be focused on you, 24/7,” says Megan Stubbs, a sexologist and relationship expert. “What an unhealthy viewpoint.”
She argues that it’s important for couples to have interactions outside of just their relationship. “We need a healthy mix of interactions to sustain our relationships,” Stubbs says. “It’s unhealthy for our partners to be our entire lives.”
There’s also something more sinister lurking beneath the surface of this idea of micro-cheating — it’s relationship control, repackaged in a cutesy little name.
“By labeling all of these minor infractions as cheating, you’re putting pressure on your partner to behave a certain way, which can translate to emotional abuse if left unchecked,” Stubbs says.
When you call otherwise innocent actions “cheating,” you’re actually being controlling.
The term also assumes that everyone has the same views about what constitutes cheating. Some folks are okay with their partners sleeping with other people. Others actually get excited when their partner has an Internet flirtation. Labeling all this behavior as cheating is excluding a whole host of types of partnerships from the equation.
Instead of being concerned with the buzzword du jour, Stubbs suggests making your own rules for your relationships.
“If you’re concerned with some of your partner’s behavior, have a conversation about it,” she says. Don’t just call them a cheater and let that affect your relationship.
She also suggests doing some self-evaluation about why these behaviors are bothering you.
“Do some soul-searching about why an Instagram post is so bothersome,” Stubbs says.
Micro-cheating isn’t a real thing when it comes to relationships. But trust and communication are — so that is exactly where you should be focusing your energy.
The first version of this story was missing the first reference to Megan Stubbs. It has been updated.