While cheating of any kind in a relationship is considered a major betrayal to most people, is micro-cheating—behavior that’s flirting with unfaithfulness without ever fully crossing the line—really all that bad? According to a new study, no. In fact, it might even have positive effects on your relationship.
- Micro-cheating is any shady behavior when you’re coupled up. This could mean being a little extra flirty with a colleague, texting an ex who you know still isn’t over you, or even liking other girls’/guys’ (depending on your sexual preference) photos on social media. While you’re not hooking up with someone else, you’re also not being 100% faithful.
- It doesn’t really harm your relationship… right? Some people believe that micro-cheating is generally pretty harmless since you’re not actually betraying your partner by engaging in any explicitly sexual activity with someone who’s not your partner. Turns out, science tends to agree.
- Micro-cheating is normal in long-term relationships. At least that’s what researchers at Israel’s Baruch Ivcher School of Psychology believe. Study author Gurit Birnbaum and his colleagues posit that not only does micro-cheating come standard the longer you’re with someone, it’s actually pretty understandable and a good outlet for frustrations and fantasies without screwing your partner over. Basically, micro-cheating lets people seek “novelty and variety without threatening the relationship.”
- Fantasizing about someone who’s not your partner serves a purpose. Basically, sexual fantasies about other people are, according to the researchers, a good thing since they deal with “relationship burnout” by helping to regulate stress and letting you engage in relatively innocuous escapism. You probably shouldn’t tell your partner that you’re doing this, of course (unless you’re into that sort of thing), but it’s not the end of the world.
- There is a line, however… If you start comparing the people in your fantasies or, say, your work spouse to your real partner and feeling dissatisfied with the relationship, that’s where the real problems begin. In the eyes of Birnbaum and his co-authors, micro-cheating is only harmless when it doesn’t cross this line. There’s also the question of whether or not fantasizing about someone who’s not your partner would increase the temptation to act on it in real life, but that wasn’t a focus on the study.
- In an ideal world, we’d only fantasize about our partners. Which you’ve probably done plenty of times, especially if your relationship is new and you’re madly in love. However, if you occasionally find yourself daydreaming about someone you’re not in a relationship with, it’s not really the end of the world, as Birnbaum’s study revealed that regardless of how long a couple had been together, most micro-cheating had neither a positive or negative effect on the relationship as a whole. So there you have it!