Here's What You Should Know About 'Micro-Cheating'

"The cruelest lies are often told in silence."—Robert Louis Stevenson

Love & Relationships

Aight, y'all. Are you ready to try and tackle this topic? Where to begin…where to begin? Oh, I got it. Not too long ago, I checked out a clip from OWN's Black Love series. The couple that I was watching was Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Dondré Whitfield. As they touched on the topic of infidelity, something that Salli stated was, "Well, I said if you did something, I don't know. I'm committed. I'm just gonna have to be mad at you for a long time, torture you. As long as you didn't have another family [I would stay]." Both she and Dondré seemed pretty light-hearted about the topic, but check it—the reason why I looked it up at all is because I initially saw the clip referenced in a forum and the women were H-O-T. Salli was called everything from stupid to desperate while the assumption was made that infidelity probably already happened which is why Dondré was laughing about it. (Goodness, y'all!)


Meanwhile, I'm over here on a totally different side of the fence. One, although they were speaking in total hypotheticals, Salli and Dondré have been married 16 years so, kudos to them for even accomplishing that in Hollyweird. Two, I couldn't help but wonder how many of the commenters have never been married before because it's real easy to say what you will or won't put up with until you are in the situation—or need to be forgiven yourself for cheating (ouch). And three, as a marriage life coach, I'm here to tell you that infidelity—which oftentimes includes surviving infidelity—actually happens a lot. Shoot, at least half of the couples I've dealt with have experienced it. Sometimes it's the husband who cheated, sometimes it's the wife—many times it's both. And, a lot of them have worked through it and have thriving marriages now.

Whenever I'm asked what I think about cheating, there are three things that I typically say. One, traditional marriage vows don't only consist of "remaining faithful so long as you both shall live". Sticking it out when your partner is broke and sick, holding them down during good times and bad, remaining until death parts you are up in there too. So, when a spouse doesn't do that, is that also a form of vow-breaking (just sayin')?

Two, we all should take a moment to think about how we'd want our partner to treat us if we cheated on them; sometimes we won't extend the forgiveness and mercy that we wish to receive. Three, what I would advise a married couple vs. a dating one is very different; married people took vows, they signed on a dotted line—it's far more serious. And four, cheating has layers and perspectives. What I mean by that is actor Olivia Wilde once said, "I think that women are more sensitive to emotional infidelity than men. I think men are more scared of physical infidelity." (I think it depends on the man or woman that you ask.) Author Susan Forward once said, "When your lover is a liar, you and he have a lot in common, you're both lying to you!" Dr. Shirley Glass once said, "The new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing that they've crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love. Infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust."

What all of this screams out is you've got to figure out where your line is. With that said, micro-cheating is a form of cheating that can help you to know exactly where your line is.

So, What Is Micro-Cheating, Anyway?


Cheating is a form of betrayal and betrayal hurts. There's no doubt about that. And just how many people are betrayed via infidelity? When it comes to cheating in a marriage, it's been reported that 23 percent of husbands have cheated while 12 percent of wives have. But I'm thinking that 1) some folks didn't tell the truth and 2) that must be related to sex because another study reveals that 45 percent of men and 35 percent of women have owned up to participating in an emotional affair. As far as micro-cheating goes, it's what I consider to be the "gateway drug" to physical and emotional infidelity. It's when you basically ride the pencil-thin line of faithfulness and unfaithfulness.

But where it gets tricky is different people have different definitions of where that line actually is. So, how about I pose some situations and scenarios and you tell me if you think that it's crossing your line or not:

  • Your significant other texting members of the opposite sex
  • Your significant other going out to lunch or dinner with a female friend or co-worker
  • Your significant other buying a woman you don't know a present or paying one of their bills
  • Your significant other communicating with women that they don't reveal to you
  • Your significant other responding to non-professional or strictly platonic DMs
  • Your significant other still remaining in touch with their ex (or exes)
  • Your significant flirting with other people
  • Your significant other dancing with other people (whether they personally know them or not)
  • Your significant other exchanging PG-rated pics to another woman
  • Your significant other giving their phone number to someone of the opposite sex

When you see it in black-and-white like this, now do you see why micro-cheating has the "micro" in front of it and, based on how you define cheating, it can be a bit of a hard call? That's the entire point. Sometimes, it's the itty-bitty-seemingly-harmless acts that can put a person on the path to doing some real damage to their relationship.

When It Comes to These Actions, Check the Motive and Intent


If you go to your favorite search engine and put "micro-cheating" into the search field, you'll see a good amount of articles on the topic (a pretty good one is "Micro-Cheating Could Be Ruining Your Relationship. Here's What to Do About It."). I've read—or at least skimmed—a good amount of them. The conclusion that I've come to is it's all about motive. Well, motive and if your partner is sneaking or not. What I mean by that is (for instance) not everyone who is still friends with an ex is still trying to get with them (see "Why Staying Friends With An Ex Is Okay (& Healthy)" or heck, check out Erykah Badu and Common performing together at the 2019 Black Girls Rock! show). Same point applies to your man telling a female co-worker that she looks nice or him interacting with people on his socials that the two of you haven't had a detailed conversation about.

Where it gets tricky—and by "tricky" what I really mean is shady—is if something or one comes to your attention, you address your man and he blows it off, deflects or gets defensive (also check out "This Is How To Tell If Someone's Lying To You"). Because if everything is innocent, all good and totally above board, what is exactly the problem with you asking (not accusing but asking) and him answering what's up?

But here's the deal—if he does take an issue with your inquiry, that's when we've just entered into the totally uncomfortable world of micro-cheating. And if micro-cheating goes on long enough, there's a good chance that it could transition into full-blown cheating.

What Should You Do About a Micro-Cheater?


OK, so what exactly should you do if you find out that your man is a bona fide micro-cheater? Well, it can't be said enough that it's important that you both discuss a topic like this before you get to cussin' and delving out punishments—I'm sorry, I mean consequences. Because again, sometimes cheating looks different ways to different people. While you may make it a habit to block any ex or person who flirts with you online, don't assume that everyone else processes social media interaction the same way. It's when you and he have come to a mutual decision of what micro-cheating is and he violates it that things get…strange. Because if you've both decided to not do certain things and he does, that is a form of disrespect as well as a violation and, as a novelist by the name of Patti Callahan Henry once said, "Cheating and lying aren't struggles, they're reasons to break-up."

I agree—if you're dating. Because to me, dating is a lot like interviewing someone for a position; if they are showing you that they aren't qualified, it's best to end things before getting more involved. If you're married? I'm not saying to sit and take it by any stretch. But what I would encourage you to do is at least go to counseling first. I know many people who have been disappointed by their spouse, immediately left and went on to regret it whether it was a month later or 10 years down the road (I'll be writing about that soon; in the meantime, an article that address this is "4 Reasons You Might Regret Getting Divorced Down the Line"). Marriage isn't something to enter into lightly or leave without really thinking it through. Speaking with a therapist, counselor or coach may be able to offer up an "outside looking in perspective" so that you can make a decision that you can have complete and total peace about—now and years from now.

OK y'all. It's blatantly obvious that micro-cheating is something that could be discussed for days on end. But for now, at least if it comes up in the break room at work, you'll know what folks are referring to. And, if you want to find a way to "cheat proof" your relationship, you can forward this onto your boo so that the two of you can discuss what you both think micro-cheating is—and come to a mutual conclusion, moving forward.

A wise person once said that one snowflake is the beginning of an avalanche. Apply that here and it's more one act of micro-cheating could possibly become responsible for infidelity. Now that you know what it is, don't let it. Both of you…don't let it.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

Why Do Men Cheat? 7 Underestimated Reasons Married Men Have Affairs

I Caught My Husband Cheating --- Here's Why I Stayed

This Is Why I Have Mad Respect For People Who Break Off Their Engagements

10 Things Married Couples Wished They Paid More Attention To While Dating

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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