The world of dating and relationships can be a minefield. Add technology into the mix and you’ve got yourself a recipe for... well, mistrust, it would seem.
More recently the term ‘micro-cheating’ has been bandied around by the media, managing to add even more confusion to what should actually be a pretty black and white arena.
According to dating expert Melanie Schilling, micro-cheating is “a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship”. Examples could include texting, DM-ing or Snapchatting someone regularly without your partner knowing, or saving someone under a fake name in your phone to avoid suspicion.
Of course, there’s a difference between texting someone harmlessly and getting pulled up on it by a jealous partner, and messaging someone regularly and in a manner that makes you want to hide it.
“The problem with social media is that it’s all about validation,” dating coach James Preece tells HuffPost UK. “People put up posts and images purely to get attention. We feel obliged to react to these to ensure we get the same results when we put up our own posts.
“It can be addictive and something we can’t live without.”
You might start noticing patterns such as the same people regularly commenting on your partner’s posts, or they might be liking someone’s photos all the time. But this isn’t necessarily something to worry about. As Preece puts it: “If you don’t know what their motives are then it could make you suspicious or jealous. But chances are it’s probably nothing to worry about. It’s best not to make a big issue out of it unless it becomes a bigger problem.”
So when should you be worried? Dating experts agree that any action on social media that has to be hidden or done discretely is a major red flag.
Relate counsellor Peter Saddington explains: “Red flags would be if someone doesn’t want to show you what they’re doing, if they’re doing it more than they used to or if they’re doing it rather than spending time with you.”
If, all of a sudden, they become reluctant to leave their phone unattended, you might want to have a word, too. Madeleine Mason, dating and relationship psychologist, says keeping their phone away from you or face down, not letting you hold or use their phone and incessantly checking their phone are all signs to be wary of.
If, on the other hand, they leave their phone exposed and near you when they leave the room, you probably have nothing to worry about.
When a partner becomes increasingly attached to their device, it can feed a strong desire on your part to check their phone. But this act, in itself, has experts divided.
Mason believes it’s fine to check your other half’s phone and there’s no harm done. “It shouldn’t matter whether your partner checks one’s phone or not,” she explains. “If there is foul-play, and checking will bring things to light, then get it over with. If not, well then hopefully you feel more confident about your partner.”
But Saddington disagrees and believes it’s an unhealthy sign. “If you’re in a recognised relationship, then you shouldn’t ever be doing something that means you don’t trust your partner or you need to look at their phone behind their back,” he says.
“If you’re in a healthy relationship you should be able to talk about anything and you should be able to say, ‘I’m worried about something. Can we talk? And can I look at this?’ That’s healthy.”
Ultimately, experts agree it’s worth setting boundaries in your relationship early on - whether that’s in regards to finances, wanting kids or what constitutes acceptable social media behaviour.
Mason concludes: “It’s ok to feel insecure sometimes, and ideally you would want to be able to have a conversation with your partner about your feelings, their behaviours and be able to seek reassurance or clarity without it turning into an argument.
“People have different tolerance levels for when cheating starts. It is important, at some point, to have a conversation about what that is.”