Is Micro-Cheating Cheating?

Psychologists have coined the word micro-cheating for mentally and emotionally cheating on one’s spouse. Is micro-cheating really cheating?

Cheating is prevalent in today’s society. A quick search of the Internet provides a long list of scandals that involve cheating.

Cheating is defrauding or deceiving someone. In other words, to cheat is “to behave in a dishonest way in order to get what you want” (dictionary.cambridge.org).

Expanding on the concept of cheating, in recent years the term micro-cheating has been added to our vocabulary.

Micro-cheating applies to a mental or emotional relationship with another person that infringes on one’s commitment to one’s spouse.

It can be defined as a mental and emotional affair with another person outside of marriage.

Some may say, “I am only thinking about an affair with someone other than my spouse. I haven’t entered into a physical relationship. Is that really cheating?”

Is micro-cheating really cheating? Why can’t micro-cheating be put into the same category as little white lies? After all, in our society, little white lies are perceived as harmless. And if little white lies are harmless, why isn’t micro-cheating harmless?

Is micro-cheating really cheating and therefore harmful, or is it just harmless flirtation?

God’s view of cheating

Before discussing micro-cheating further, let’s consider God’s perspective on cheating.

God, who created us and has set the standards for human relationships, has much to say about cheating in Scripture.

The word cheat is used four times in the New King James Version of the Bible. We are commanded not to cheat our neighbor (Leviticus 19:13). We are told that we do wrong when we cheat (1 Corinthians 6:8). And we are issued warnings to beware lest anyone cheat us through philosophy and empty deceit (Colossians 2:8) and not to let anyone cheat us out of our eternal reward (verse 18).

The fact that God views cheating as an impediment to good human relationships is embedded in several of His 10 Commandments.

In order to establish trust in human relationships, God wants us not to lie (Exodus 20:16). When people lie, they deceive the person they are lying to, even if it is a “little white lie.” Deception is one of the attributes of cheating.

When we lie to another person, we are cheating.

Neither are we to steal from another person (Exodus 20:15). For instance, if a person cheats on a test by stealing someone else’s answers, he or she is behaving in a dishonest way to get what he or she wants—a better grade.

Furthermore, we are not to defraud (cheat) anyone in regard to weights and measures (Leviticus 19:35-36; Proverbs 20:10). A pound is to be a pound, and a kilogram is to be a kilogram—not any more or less.

Then, there is the commandment that says we are not to cheat on our spouses (Exodus 20:14). An illicit sexual relationship with someone likely involves deceit and certainly defrauds more than one person. It is truly acting in a dishonest way to obtain something we want, but know we should not have.

And there is the commandment against coveting—feeling inordinate desire for someone or something we shouldn’t have.

As we can see, God abhors cheating, and His standards do not allow for cheating in any form (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Considering God’s hatred of cheating, let’s examine micro-cheating and see whether it falls on the cheating spectrum.

Examples of micro-cheating

According to Melanie Schilling, an Australian psychologist, “Micro-cheating is a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship.”

These small behaviors approach and increase infidelity. Micro-cheating has more to do with a person’s thoughts than his or her actions. It is a person’s intentions and feelings that separate micro-cheating from a harmless action.

Just as there are signs that someone is cheating physically in his or her marriage, there are signs that someone is cheating on his or her spouse mentally.

An article on PairedLife.com includes the following as examples of micro-cheating for a person in a relationship:

  • Secretly messaging someone else.
  • Meeting with someone without your partner knowing.
  • Complaining about your partner to the other person.
  • Sharing knowing looks behind your partner’s back.
  • Saying things like, “If I weren’t in a relationship . . .”
  • Joking in a flirtatious way.
  • Creating an online dating profile.
  • Trying to impress someone you have a crush on.
  • Telling someone you’re single when you aren’t.
  • Discussing your intimate desires with someone who isn’t your spouse.
  • Following inappropriate accounts on social media.
  • Hoping to make someone notice you in a romantic way.
  • Turning to someone else for your emotional needs when your relationship is rocky.

A married person who does these things is being unfaithful to his or her spouse and destroying the integrity of their relationship.

Many of these actions involve deception.

This means that micro-cheating is cheating!

Does God have anything to say about micro-cheating?

Long before any psychologist coined the word micro-cheating, God addressed the intentions and feelings behind micro-cheating.

Notice what we are told by Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:27-28:

In order to overcome micro-cheating, we need to control or bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

In these verses from Matthew, we see Christ magnifying the law of God as He said He was sent to do (Matthew 5:17).

We are told in the verses above that we are not only to refrain from physically committing adultery, but we are also to refrain from committing adultery in our heart.

What does our heart have to do with committing adultery?

As Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words explains, the word heart in Matthew 5:28 means more than the organ in us that pumps blood:

“The word came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements. In other words, the heart is used figuratively for the hidden springs of the personal life.”

In the Bible, the heart represents the seat of our emotions. Matthew 5:28 tells us we can commit adultery through our emotions, feelings and thoughts—what has been defined as micro-cheating.

How to stop micro-cheating

To understand what we need to do to overcome the sin of micro-cheating, we need to understand how sin begins in us.

Sin begins with our emotions, feelings and thoughts. The book of James indicates that when we are tempted, it is our own passions that carry us away and serve as bait. Then, the passion conceives and becomes the parent of sin (James 1:14-15).

Our passions begin in our mind, where our emotions, feelings and thoughts occur.

In order to overcome micro-cheating, we need to control or bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Controlling our thoughts may require drastic action. The Bible tells us that if our right eye causes us to sin, we are to tear it out and discard it (Matthew 5:29, English Standard Version; see our article “If Your Right Eye Causes You to Sin, Pluck It Out”). We are not to do this literally; the point is, if we look upon someone who is not our spouse and desire the person sexually, then we need to stop looking and stop desiring!

Furthermore, God tells us to run away from sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18).

One way to combat our wrong thoughts is to replace them with right thoughts. We should think about the things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable (Philippians 4:8). Thinking on these things will drive out the thoughts that lead to lust, cheating and micro-cheating.

What will you do?

Learn more in our article “Seven Steps for Overcoming Sin.”

About the Author

Martin Cole

Martin Cole is an elder serving in the Leicester, Massachusetts, congregation, of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He holds a PhD in chemical education from Middle Tennessee State University and is currently a semi-retired adjunct chemistry instructor at a local community college. Martin enjoys spending time with his wife, grandchildren and pets. He also enjoys gardening, hiking, motorcycling, playing tennis, reading and winters with lots of snow.

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