If your hus­band texted this to an­other woman, does it mean he’s CHEAT­ING?

It’s a ques­tion di­vid­ing cou­ples, says this psy­chol­o­gist who’s found on­line flirt­ing can be as harm­ful as a full-blown af­fair

Daily Mail - - Femailmaga­zine - by Dr Martin Graff

WITHIn a few months of meet­ing at a party, nadiya and ryan, an old friend of her fam­ily, were mes­sag­ing each other up to 35 times a day.

‘I was liv­ing with my fi­ance and I should have ended it, but I wanted to con­tinue the ex­cite­ment,’ says nadiya, 30.

‘I went as far as get­ting a se­cret phone be­cause I didn’t want my fi­ance to find out. But even at this point, we never said any­thing sex­ual to each other.

‘Then, after around six months, I re­alised ryan was feel­ing more at­tracted to me. I loved the at­ten­tion, but he was say­ing things like: “Can I come to see you?” Part of me was thrilled by it. But I knew I loved my fi­ance and didn’t want to cheat on him.

‘I made the de­ci­sion to end it, and turned off my se­cret phone. I left it for about a week, then I turned it on again and up popped loads of mes­sages from him say­ing: “Where are you? Why can’t we be friends?” I sim­ply replied: “I can’t do this any more.”

‘That was it. It was hard and I missed the flir­ta­tion and the ex­cite­ment, but I didn’t want to get caught.’

At first glance, it’s hard to know how to as­sess nadiya and ryan’s re­la­tion­ship. It was more than a friend­ship, but not overtly sex­ual and never phys­i­cal.

I be­lieve what nadiya is ad­mit­ting to is mi­cro-­cheat­ing, a term I’ve used in my work as a re­search psy­chol­o­gist to de­scribe on­line be­hav­iour that falls into a grey area be­tween friend­li­ness and in­fi­delity.

Mi­cro-­ cheat­ing, as the name sug­gests, stops short of phys­i­cal in­fi­delity. How­ever, there will be some who will see it as a way to look around for po­ten­tial part­ners, so it could end up be­ing the first step to a phys­i­cal af­fair.

For oth­ers, it won’t even go so far as what’s termed ‘ an emo­tional af­fair’, when a per­son shares in­ti­mate thoughts with some­one out­side the mar­riage, or re­lies on some­one who isn’t their part­ner for emo­tional sup­port. For them, it’s sim­ply an on­line flir­ta­tion.

In the same way that the in­ter­net has made it eas­ier to ini­ti­ate full-­blown af­fairs, mi­cro-­cheat­ing is some­thing that’s be­come in­creas­ingly preva­lent as a re­sult of our abil-ity to con­nect with mul­ti­ple peo­ple a day via so­cial me­dia, mes­sag­ing apps and texts.

It’s es­ti­mated the av­er­age Bri­ton now spends around one hour and 48 min­utes a day on so­cial me­dia, man­ag­ing con­tacts across an av­er­age of four so­cial net­works, such as Twit­ter, In­sta­gram and Face­book.

Our

un­der­stand­ing of what con­sti­tuted in­fi­delity in the past was pretty clear cut. But in a world with ever more fluid so­cial codes and in­for­mal ways of con­nect­ing, the rules of what’s ac­cept­able be­tween two peo­ple who are not in a re­la­tion­ship are more open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

My re­search into mi­cro-­cheat­ing set out to clar­ify what on­line be­hav­iour men and women con­sider to be un­faith­ful — or even dis­re­spect­ful.

I put dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios to peo­ple to judge whether they con­sid­ered the peo­ple in­volved to be cheat­ing. I found that women have a much nar­rower def­i­ni­tion than men of what they con­sider ac­cept­able.

Take emo­jis. Many peo­ple sprin­kle emo­jis on ev­ery Face­book post and text mes­sage, no mat­ter whom they are ad­dress­ing.

And yet, some of the women I spoke to would class their part­ner putting an emoji of a heart or flow­ers on an­other woman’s Face­book page as in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

Fur­ther­more, some con­sider it cheat­ing be­hav­iour if a per­son tags a for­mer lover in a post as part of an in­side joke, or if they reg­u­larly check the so­cial me­dia ac­counts of for­mer part­ners.

For oth­ers, even ba­sic dig­i­tal in­ter­ac­tions can be a sign of mi­cro-­ cheat­ing. These in­clude things that many of us would do with­out a se­cond thought, such as invit­ing an ex to be a Face­book friend or, if in a het­ero­sex­ual re­la­tion­ship, mes­sag­ing some­one of the op­po­site sex with­out telling our part­ner.

Time of day can be key. Some­one who mes­sages an ex, or a col­league, in the morn­ing to share news may be viewed as hav­ing dif­fer­ent in­ten-tions to some­one who is mes­sag­ing that same per­son late at night.

And what you share is im­por­tant, too.

The women I sur­veyed were less both­ered if their part­ners were shar­ing fac­tual in­for­ma­tion with other women, but ob­jected when con­ver­sa­tions in­volved feel­ings.

Some be­hav­iours are more likely to raise sus­pi­cion than oth­ers. An ac­quain­tance once ad­mit­ted that he saved the de­tails of fe­male friends un­der men’s names when he added con­tacts to his phone. He in­sisted there was noth­ing un­to­ward about this habit, but it was hard to see how his wife wouldn’t class this as sus­pi­cious. It’s also com­mon for women to end mes­sages to fe­male friends with kisses, and some now also fin­ish mes­sages to men this way. Is this mi­cro-­ cheat­ing or just harm-less af­fec­ta­tion in our in­for­mal dig­i­tal age? What makes the dif­fer­ence be­tween an ac­tiv­ity be­ing mi­cro-­ cheat­ing or harm­less is the mo­ti­va­tion of the per­son do­ing it. But sometimes the re­cip­i­ent doesn’t know the in­ten­tion of the per­son who has been in con­tact, so it can cause con­fu­sion and sus­pi­cion. Take, for ex­am­ple, my friend Sam, who was sent a mes­sage on What­sApp by a fe­male friend that said sim­ply: ‘I miss you!’ As Sam had been friends, but noth­ing more, with this per­son for many years, he hadn’t given it a se­cond thought.

The prob­lem was that his girl­friend didn’t see it as in­no­cent. She was fu­ri­ous.

While Sam even­tu­ally man­aged to per­suade his girl­friend he wasn’t cheat­ing on her, the in­ci­dent cast a shadow over their re­la­tion­ship for months.

It’s hard to imag­ine such a sce­nario hap­pen­ing 15 years ago.

Be­fore the ex­plo­sion in on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Sam’s friend would have had to ei­ther write a letter or tele­phone. Her mo­tiva-tion would have been far clearer.

But a one-­line mes­sage has much greater po­ten­tial for mis­un­der­stand­ing.

One of the is­sues the concept of mi­cro-­cheat­ing high­lights is that the line be­tween what’s friendly in­ter­ac­tion and what might be con­sid­ered un­healthy in­ter­est has be­come blurred.

In the past, a letter would have in­cluded enough de­tail to give a sense of the aim of the writer.

But mi­cro-­ cheat­ing can also serve a pos­i­tive pur­pose. It can help strengthen the bonds be­tween a cou­ple.

Jeal­ous re­ac­tions to sus­pected mi­cro-­cheat­ing can ac­tu­ally help keep cou­ples to­gether, be­cause they can pre­vent any ac­cel­er­a­tion in po­ten­tial in­fi­delity.

There are those who have crit­i­cised the idea of mi­cro-cheat­ing, say­ing that many of these in­ter­ac­tions are the standard way of so­cial­is­ing on­line nowa­days, and that pro­mot­ing the idea they in­di­cate cheat­ing en­cour­ages peo­ple to dis­trust part­ners and stalk them on­line.

Yet the rise of so­cial me­dia, the in­crease in the use of emo­jis and the am­bi­gu­ity of many posts and mes­sages has in­creased the propen­sity for ar­gu­ments.

What it does prove is that, in an age of open­ness and in­for­mal­ity, more than ever we have to be watch­ful of how our ac­tions are per­ceived by oth­ers. And it shows that we need to be hon­est with our part­ners about what is ac­cept­able be­hav­iour on­line.

Through the in­ter­net, we have quickly got used to in­ter­act­ing with strangers in a pre­vi­ously un­heard-­of, re­laxed and in­for­mal way, but in terms of the history of hu­man com­mu­ni­ca­tion, all this is brand new. It’s some­thing we are still learning how to nav­i­gate.

Some names have been changed.

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