What ‘Micro-Cheating’ Does to Committed Relationships

Today’s video will give you a simple test to figure out if you’re in a backburner relationship, and provide you with the mindset you need to give your current one its best shot.

 Would love it if you left me a comment with your thoughts. What does “micro-cheating” mean to you?

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There’s no shame in a relationship not working out, but it’s a shame if it doesn’t work out because the whole time you spent your time in it, you didn’t actually go all in.



So this was an article in Psychology Today that talked about how “back burners” are people with whom one maintains contact in the hope of someday pursuing a romantic or sexual encounter. And what it basically said is that roughly 70 something percent of singles have back burners, but more troubling, basically over half, about 56% of those in committed relationships have, according to this survey, let’s always take these with a pinch of salt. These are limited surveys, et cetera, but it is in Psychology Today. About 56% of those in committed relationships reported having a back-burner person or relationship. That does seem kind of high, doesn’t it, 52%? Or do you think that’s fairly human that people would have some kind of backup option in mind?



Well, it depends what you call a backup option. I think that it’s probably not high if you just define that back-burner thing as someone who you just haven’t explicitly said, no, there’s nothing between us and they also don’t know that you’re with someone and you kind of even casually keep the thing alive by texting. Then if that’s considered a back-burner because you know that there is some underlying attraction there, even if it’s not spoken, then it’s probably not high. That probably is fairly realistic.



And do we count that as a form of… I mean, is that just another shade of infidelity? Is it just a kind of micro cheating as they might say?



If you’re continuing to engage someone and you’re in a relationship and you, especially, if it turns flirtatious, you avoid telling them you’re in a relationship and in truth, if you find yourself going out of your way to not tell those individuals that you are in a relationship, I think that’s where you have to suspect yourself, is if you’re talking to someone who you claim is just a friend, but you’re not actually making it explicit that you are in a relationship. That, to me then strays into that territory, especially if it would be organic to do so. If someone says, what have you been up to and you happen to have been with your boyfriend or girlfriend for the last two weeks, or you’ve just been on vacation with them and you fail to mention that, then that to me, starts to stray into that territory.



Yeah, I think that’s right. But you also have these people where they would know you’re in a relationship, but if there’s some kind of subtle way where you are both keeping in contact as a like, well, we do have something and maybe we’ll see if we’re both single again, maybe we’ll give each other a call. And you’re kind of just keeping them there to know, “Hey, I’m here, if you break up with that person.”



Well, yeah, I mean, it’s tricky. If you’ve hooked up before with that person, then firstly, your partner in my opinion, deserves to know that, oh, this is, I’m maintaining a relationship here, but I have actually been with this person. That then should be something that you’re sensitive to with your partner. If it were the other way round. And our partner was friends with someone that they had been with, and now they’re staying friends with them and it’s an active friend. It’s one thing to be cordial with someone. It’s another thing to have an active friendship with someone that you’re maintaining, that you’re regularly texting them. You’re regularly having conversations with them. That’s a different thing. And I think it becomes, if you’re not careful, people can turn it into a form of, it’s like not really committing to the person you’re with.



Yeah. And it can almost be a way of slow self-sabotage because you’re inviting another presence to create jealousy, to create conflict and create problems that otherwise wouldn’t exist if you weren’t maintaining this.



Exactly. And then you have to say, well, how important is it? How worth it is it? What’s the reason I’m doing this?



Yeah. I think for some people, I think just the times we live in, it becomes irresistible for people to… I think they start with keeping tabs on their ex and then it might be checking in occasionally. And then it might be commenting and saying, hello. And I think it can become this kind of just keeping tabs. Like maybe if they’re ever single again, we’ll, I’ll hit them up or something. It’s just, there’s so many shades of gray. And it’s a thing, because I don’t want to create paranoia or anything. And I think that is a problem with our time where people have so many sources to talk to other people, everyone becomes so paranoid of, is someone cheating on me, is someone on social media flirting with other people, but they just think, well, I just want to keep a hand in the-



Yeah. I’m a big believer that when you’re still leaving the door open to those different options, you’re actually denying the relationship you’re in the chance to be all that it can be, because you’re not actually seeing who you are when you cut off your options and go all in. You’re not seeing how the relationship can evolve from a place of true security, true safety, real commitment. And there’s no shame in a relationship not working out, but it’s a shame if it doesn’t work out because the whole time you’ve spent your time in it, you didn’t actually go all in. That to me is time… That’s time wasted because you’re not going and doing other things. You’re not dating other people. It’s not like you are actually going out with any of those people that you’re “keeping on the back burner.”

You’re not, but you’re also not fully invested in the situation you’re in. You’re somewhere in no man’s land. Now that I’m thinking about it, when you talk about the whole back burner thing, that is an indication of our unwillingness to be present with the situation we’re in. It’s a way of not choosing. And, on our Retreat, we talk about how answers are a reward for doing things. We talk about this on day one of the Retreat. If you want answers in life, you have to actually go and do something. If you want answers about what the right career is, you do actually have to taste some careers. You do actually have to go and try something. You do actually have to immerse yourself in something. And that starts to give you answers. You can’t get answers by just sitting there and intellectualizing everything.

And I don’t think you can get answers from a relationship by being halfway in. You get answers by, if you decide, you know what, I’m actually going to give this a shot. I’m not talking about on day three of meeting someone or week three, even. But if you’ve decided to have a committed relationship with someone, then that’s the time to say right now, I don’t know if this is going to be forever or not, but right now this is what I’m going to do. And I’m going to do it really well. And I’m going to see what it can be.





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24 Replies to “What ‘Micro-Cheating’ Does to Committed Relationships”

  • My fiancé has blocked me on his Facebook because I found some questionable comments etc. Yeah I snooped but he’s really shady with his phone. That made me suspicious. Since then I’ve found even shadier things in messages. He changed his lock code. This relationship is breaking me. I am so easy to infuriate because of all that’s gone on.

    1. My bf of one year kept “like” and “love” other women’s profile on fb and having banter with them instead of me. Chatting to different women all over the world on messenger till after midnight, then invited them as “friend”. He added about 200 women after I found out what he was up to since February this year. I raised my concern twice in 6 months, he said I shouldn’t need to worry because he didn’t intend to date them. But he wouldn’t stop chatting to his “friend” he said. When the discussion went pear shape, he blocked me. He made me feel so insecure. He had so many back burner women, he was just waiting for one to move forward with him. This micro cheating had ruined my relationship.

  • What about micro-cheating with porn? I’ve recently discovered my husband spends 2-5 hours watching porn. He’s autistic, so I suppose it’s the easiest thing. He promised he’d stopped but he had not. It reduces his desire for intimacy with me, and on the rare occasions we do come together, it affects his ability to come to orgasm, which didn’t used to be a problem. He’s also brought some rough even dominating ideas to our unions, which was what made me suspicious that he hadn’t stopped porn. He didn’t ask me about it, and I felt used afterwards. He goes right to his internet women even after being intimate with me. I no longer desire him since I discovered that. But we live together. I think there’s no hope – we used to have a wonderful sex life, in the early years. He refuses to discuss it but just lies he’s stopped. But he hasn’t. I suppose he lies to himself about this. I consider it micro-cheating, or even just macro cheating. I find myself having a wandering eye now, which I did not before. But I’d like to find affection and connection with a real person, and he seems to be satisfied with getting those needs met with women online. Sigh.

  • Hey Mathew and Stephen
    This is a great topic as many of us deal with subtle acts of dismissive and covert behaviors while the other is making us appear to be cherished, and while we question and doubt ourselves our loved ones and friends think we have a great relationship.
    Rachel I hope you read this comment I have called off my engagement after 3 years of questionable behaviors. He was a”nice guy” Please just keep listening to Matt and I promise you are better off alone a while, opening your life up to great possibilities and a future love that you will trust!

  • Uh. Doing a version of this with two guys online. But … the actual guy right here who wants to be THE man in my life is married. Separated. Wife with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home. A FRIEND of mine. What am I supposed to DO? Life’s just got more confusing as I’ve got older. The guy here keeps hinting “We’re not getting any younger” … But he’ll post things at Christmas time, anniversaries etc. with his family, & mutual friends ask him over & not me. I feel ostracised. Yet otherwise, he’s so sweet & wants to take me out & tells me he loves me etc. It’s got to the point where one of the guys online is somehow now my primary relationship. In fact I got into the online stuff because I was feeling so hurt, confused & desperate as a result of the situation here. I thought I was totally off the planet until recently I found three close girlfriends were doing or had done similar things.

    1. I think people should assume the relationship they’re in. They should dive all the way in. Stop being afraid of giving it all or suffering. The more you give the more you get. That’s the only way things will work long term. If you are only half way in, it will show and the relationship will always be soft and mean less… Never gets to the big deeper level of real soul mates

  • M8cro cheating happened to me.i took him back after 7 months after seeing stuff on his phone.its something I NEVER got over and subsequently brok up for good on Xmas day.once that trust is broken u can never get it bk..it broke me because the whole relationship feels like a lie now and it makes me question every guy that becomes interested in me now.micro cheating IS cheating. Its disgusting to do this to the person u CLAIM to love so think about wat ur doing before u do it..its soul destroying!

  • Such a relevant topic these days!
    But then, what do you do if you are with someone who is doing this? Microcheating and who still leaves the door open for others to come in lightly with social media flirting.
    I have talked to this with My current girlfriend and she claims since its virtual that really means nothing.

    Should one try to “convince” the other person to stop? :-/

  • My ex tried to make me his back-burner person, but I refused. He told me he still loved me and didn’t love his current partner. He wanted to communicate with me regularly without telling her that we were in touch. I told him that I would not pursue any kind of friendship with him unless he tells her about it. I’m pretty sure she was the back-burner person when he and I were together. They had a friendship that I questioned, but tolerated. I trusted him. I think she was just waiting for our relationship to fall apart though. Needless to say, I don’t have tons of sympathy for her now – but I don’t want to do the same thing she did out of spite.

  • Hi Matthew,
    I trust that you’re well and keeping safe.
    Firstly,thank you for the opportunity to see your videos. On that note I’ll choke right in. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to me. We were together for two years,lived together for one year and i only realized this maybe one year after he left. You are absolutely right when you say that once there’s some form of correspondence with someone from the past, the individual came never give wholeheartedly to the current relationship. I’ve had to deal with the secrets,lies, disruptive communication and even deflecting. Heartbroken to say the least,mentally draining. This experience i wouldn’t wish on my enemies and mat, honestly its a journey to get through the pain, but, while im in prayer, im grateful for your videos and your words of encouragement as i move forward.

  • I think it’s not good to have a back burner person or it won’t help you to your present relationship because your taking away the energy in your present relationship you won’t see the true value or appreciate your present boyfriend or girlfriend 100% because you have always doubt and he/she will feel it and will see it your effort and to her/him would be limited only, because your subconscious mind telling that you still have someone if ever you and your partner break up , until your subconscious mind make it true.

  • I though I was going crazy at first because the guy I am with has sleep apnea and stays up all night. But then I noticed him hiding his phone. Telling me he has no friends but receiving back to back Facebook messages. At times he will disappear into the bathroom for 1-2 hours. Then the Facebook messages begins again so he is back in the bathroom. He tells me he is not using dating sites or community with other women. But I have found his phone open with a woman’s message that she misses him. When asked if he is using dating apps or meeting other people he says no. But will slip up and mention thing that he did with out me. I own my home, and have told him he needs to leave but he won’t. Instead the poor me I am sick act starts.

  • Thank you for bringing this topic up. Unfortunately I am in one of those “backburner” relationships. The guy I’ve currently been talking to has had the same girlfriend for the past 10 years. I think he is currently talking to me because he is getting bored. I get so frustrated because I never feel like he is going to leave his girlfriend, and I don’t want to get my hopes up. I don’t know how to get myself out of this situation because we talk, but we have never hooked up or talked about what this is. I really like this guy, but I don’t know where to go from here.

  • Thank you for the video. This described exactly what my exclusive Ex of 1 year was doing. I know he chatted to different women including his exs on messenger everyday and left flirting comments on his/their fb pages and accepted women “friend” from all over the world. He didn’t see anything wrong with it while dating me.
    I voiced my concern several times, all he said was “you will never accept I have friends/colleagues who are female” “I am not having intimate convos with them or have intention to date them” He hadn’t changed that behaviour.
    During the last dressing down, he asked for more time to know me better before committed but I feel so insecure and paranoid all the time wondering IF he’d seeing someone else. I have enough and am totally done !! I think I have made the right decision, right ?? Thanks Matt and Stephen

  • A very subtle vidéo on “back burner” putting words and naming an uncomfortable feeling. As usual a sharp look into relationships.

  • Dear Matthew,
    sometimes you know the relationship has reached a point, where you have invested and turned everything upside down. Yet, it is stuck in a place, so you wait. I’ve been in this situation and was patient to overcome the low point. My feeling of loyalty said stay, my heart wanted out. Then I met a man. We were on such a good level together. We worked together for a year. Our ways parted, we stayed in contact and he knew I was in a committed relationship. I also told my partner, there was someone I cared for. After four years I got seperated. My ex had held on to me but didn’t fulfill any needs, such as having conversations, sharing his dreams and wishes, no communication there. He just felt comfortable. That great man, I had met four years ago, never left my mind. We never met in all the time, yet we texted and phoned. Never in a romantic way, just as good friends. We have been seeing each other for half a year now, things are developing slowly on a very deep level. There is trust and understanding. I need time to find myself again but he really sees me, listens and we share the same values. We couldn’t forget each other. I believe it would have been a mistake to go against my heart. The timing wasn’t quite right, but somehow we knew, there was someone special and we both are happy, we have a chance now. My ex partner wasn’t ready to let go. I could have been more firm. It didn’t feel right back then to end things. Now I can say, we probably wasted time. We spent 15 years together and the past five weren’t necessary. However, I trust my intuition and maybe there is a higher force, that lets us do so. I still learned a lot in those years. Now I’m free to move on and am more aware of boundaries, my own needs and how to love myself. Things take time :-)
    Best wishes,

  • Oh WOW! Sigh…a little about me. I’m a woman in my late 50’s who has been single most of my adult life; not because I want to be but it is what it is. I have MANY friends who are couples and that can be very delicate at times. The only real way that can be done in my personal situation is having good strong boundaries. If a couple thinks I’m trying to break up a good partnership it sure makes sense that I wouldn’t get invited to anything and would lose all my friendships. I’ve often felt that a committed man is trying to “back burner” me and I politely and firmly put a stop to it. Yes I’d like a committed relationship but no…never at the expense of someone else. And who needs all that drama? This conversation makes me sad.

  • Problem is you don’t know if you are or not. Are you the back up or is it the other person?
    They really font say, because they equally give the same investment in relationships
    Guys that do this a butt heads and creeps.

  • Hi Matt and Stephen, thank your for this video.

    I have a follow-up question for you: what should you do if you are the “back-burner” woman? Listening to your talk made me realise that I am in that situation, and I would like to be the front burner, so to speak. Do I call him out on this?

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