The first time I heard the word entanglement being tossed around the internet, I was encouraged – I thought the buzz was drawing attention to seal entanglements, an ocean life crisis where seals (and many other species that swim the oceans) suffer horrible entanglements in fishing line and trash.
I soon learned the context, though—entanglement equaled extramarital affair. You know… cheating.
The first time I heard the term micro-cheating… well, I can’t actually recall. But I’ve since learned it describes a situation where one partner engages in “minor” but nonetheless inappropriate behavior with another person. So it’s cheating lite, I suppose.
But there’s a problem with this. You can’t cheat “a little” any more than you can be “a little” pregnant. No, it might not be obvious right away, and you might be able to hide it for a while, but it always grows. Sooner or later, it’s going to show, and you’re going to have to deal with it.
So why has the term micro-cheating caught on? I don’t know for sure, but as someone who specializes in helping betrayed spouses manage and overcome their partner’s infidelity (whatever that entails in a specific situation), it strikes me as yet another way for an unfaithful or untrustworthy spouse to downplay their actions. And in many if not most situations, that’s counterproductive in the extreme.
Why? Because many unfaithful or untrustworthy spouses are already very good at downplaying what they’ve done or of challenging the definition of cheating or betrayal—“I didn’t sleep with him/her, so I didn’t cheat.” Using a made-up term like micro-cheating just gives them another way to downplay what they’ve done and avoid taking responsibility, while at the same time making the betrayed spouse feel even more unheard, anxious, and worried that things will never change.
Of course, there are more complicated cases of infidelity and cases that are harder to crack. An ongoing emotional and physical affair, one a spouse openly refuses to end, is obviously very different than a spouse who “flirts” a lot, and those situations will need to be managed in different ways. But even then, the similarities can’t be denied and should be taken seriously, since both situations carry a serious underlying potential for pain, deception and betrayal to the other spouse.
That word—betrayal—is a harsh one, isn’t it? It certainly sounds more serious and judgmental than words like micro-cheating or entanglement. In fact, not too long ago I had a client who told me that, during marriage counseling with his unfaithful wife, the counselor informed him that “there are many ways to betray a spouse. An affair is just one.” The example the counselor used was that the husband had betrayed his wife by hiding his propensity for impulse spending before they married, a situation that had caused some financial troubles in the marriage.
I’m not denying there are many ways to betray someone’s trust or deceive them, but suggesting that hiding a spending habit and hiding an extramarital affair are somehow comparable when it comes to a spouse’s sense of betrayal isn’t just nonsense, again, it’s counterproductive. There is no betrayal in marriage that is as serious, lasting, pervasive or more difficult to overcome than infidelity. Suggesting otherwise lets the unfaithful spouse downplay what they’ve done, while also downplaying the pain that the betrayed spouse is experiencing.
Which brings me back to the first word—entanglement. This word provides another way to downplay the betrayal aspect of an affair. The word entanglement implies there is more than one person at fault, and that the situation somehow just happened. Picture that innocent seal swimming in the oceans, minding his own business, when all of a sudden he’s ensnared by some old fishing net. Affairs don’t happen that way. They are not accidental. An unfaithful spouse has made a conscious decision to swim straight into that net, fully aware of the consequences.
Shakespeare says, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Call it what you want—micro-cheating, an entanglement or an affair—but betrayal and deception, by any other names, would smell just as sour. My recommendation is to open the windows and clear the air as quickly, humbly, and honestly as possible.
We don’t need more words, labels or excuses for spouses to argue over when they’re trying to heal from the pain and deception of infidelity, and we certainly don’t need more ways for an unfaithful spouse to downplay the hurt or betrayal involved. What we need is more accountability. Not less. If a couple is going to survive infidelity and go on to enjoy a happy, secure and mature marriage moving forward, that simply has to happen.
If you’re a spouse whose partner has been unfaithful, and if this article has resonated with you, you may wish to consider my Marriage SOS™ online crash course Overcoming Infidelity // For Betrayed Spouses. With its no-nonsense approach, practical guidance and high success rate, it may be precisely what you need to turn things around, starting today.
Debra Macleod, BA, JD, is the founder of MARRIAGE SOS™, a proven and no-nonsense way to save a sinking marriage. She has served as an expert resource for major media around the world, from The New York Times and Entrepreneur to ELLE and Men’s Health.
Visit her homepage to see all Marriage SOS™ Online Crash Courses or book a phone consult.