I have been cheated on before, and it hurt me in so many ways that I don’t want to experience anything like it ever again.

My heart felt as if it had been ripped out of my chest and stomped on by a gorilla wearing commando boots, my head hurt whenever I thought about the betrayal, and my confidence felt as if it had been zapped in a microwave oven and then forced through a shredding machine.

I sought refuge in my bed, where I pulled the quilt over my head and didn’t want to come out ever again. This might sound a bit melodramatic (I know, unusual coming from me), but for a while I understood what it must feel like to die from a broken heart. Indeed, if someone had told me during that dark period that I had only a day left to live, I would probably have welcomed it.

Way back then, my definition of an affair didn’t agree with my ex-partner’s definition. According to him, “merely” kissing a woman once and calling her several times a day didn’t constitute an affair/cheating.

As far as I’m aware, if you’re doing something with another man/woman, and you choose to keep it secret from your partner, you’re probably cheating. Even if your clandestine activities do not entail having sex with someone else (mega-cheating), you could be guilty of micro-cheating.

“Micro-cheating? What’s that?” you might be thinking just about now.

Micro-cheating involves those little acts that could fall into a grey area. Such acts are not cheating per se, but they can seriously undermine a relationship, especially if they become a secret habit.

For example, just say your husband (could just as easily be your wife) goes off on a business trip and decides to visit the hotel bar one evening after work. While there, he introduces himself to a woman who is also having a drink on her own. There is an instant mutual attraction and they begin flirting with each other. He tells her a little about himself but omits to say he is married. When the bar closes, they exchange telephone numbers and promise to keep in touch.


When our columnist found out her ex-husband was having an affair, it felt like her heart had been ripped out of her chest. Photo: AFP

When he returns home, he doesn’t tell his wife about the encounter. “It was nothing,” he convinces himself. “Why upset her with minor details?”

Now, that’s micro-cheating.

Unbeknown to his wife, Flirty Fred is in the habit of hitting on women while on business trips. He just sees it as a bit of harmless fun that’s good for his ego.

But I wonder how his dutiful wife, Home-Alone Hannah, would react if she knew what he really did when he said he was writing long boring reports in his hotel room at the end of each day. What would it do to her ego?

Shortly after his last business trip, Flirty Fred receives a text message from one of the women he met at a bar. Soon, they are exchanging messages several times a day. Then the texts escalate to calls.

He enters the woman in his contact list under the name of a male colleague. If she calls him when Home-Alone Hannah is around, he can always flash his phone in front of her and say, “It’s that irritating Sam Smith again. He works all hours and expects me to do the same. But I’m not going to let him intrude on the time I spend with my lovely wife.”

Home-Alone Hannah will probably smile and wonder what she’s done to deserve such an adoring husband.

Now, that’s micro-cheating.

Flirty Fred is convinced that he’s done nothing wrong, other than tell a few white lies to spare his wife’s feelings. And doesn’t everyone tell white lies from time to time? He ignores the emotional attachment that has developed with the other woman.

After a while, Flirty Fred gets fed up with the need to be vigilant when his phone rings when he’s with his wife. He’s tried putting the phone on silent mode or switching it off altogether, but his wife usually says something like: “Don’t you think it’s strange that your phone hasn’t made a sound all evening? Is there something wrong with it?”

The last thing he wants to do is arouse suspicion, so he goes out and buys himself a cheap telephone and gives the number to his flirting partner. He keeps the phone in the bottom of the bag he carries to work. The same bag that Home-Alone Hannah doesn’t touch – because she trusts him and believes that being in a relationship doesn’t give you the right to invade your partner’s need for privacy.

Now, that’s micro-cheating.

At the end of the day, is micro-cheating just plain old cheating? Is flirting acceptable in your relationship? Are secret text messages okay with you? Is Flirty Fred having a bit of harmless fun or is he being disrespectful to Home-Alone Hannah?

Where do you draw the line?

Check out Mary on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mary.schneider.writer