Is it infidelity if it’s online?

Extramarital affairs drive many couples to therapy, if not to divorce. Marriage is hard enough to maintain without outsiders interfering. It is no small thing when you find out your spouse has been unfaithful and it takes courage to try and work through it.

While extramarital affairs are as old as time, with new technology there has become a new “modality” of affairs, known as online affair. These kinds of “affairs” have become very prominent in the last decade. What starts off as “just chatting” can often turn into cheating. But is it really cheating if it’s online?

Is it Cheating if It’s Online?

Online relationships create easy accessibility to virtually anyone, it allows the possibility of anonymity and the creating a better version of yourself to others. It also offers instant gratification without strings attached…or does it? What many people fail to see is the emotional attachment you can create to your virtual lover(s) when exchanging intimate secrets and fantasies.

People often make excuses to the non-physical nature of online relationships, but nonetheless they are a relationship. Affairs don’t need to be physical to hurt. Emotional affairs exist and can be as damaging to your marriage as if you had sex with the other person. It leaves your partner confused as to how to defend him/herself against a faceless enemy that is literally inside their house – in the computer.

Not all online relationships are an emotional affair, but you must be aware of the signs:

4 Signs of an emotional affair:

1) You can’t share about it: The first question to ask yourself is “Can I tell my spouse about everything we talk online”? If it took you more than 5 seconds to answer, you are probably not having a harmless chat. There is nothing wrong with a healthy adult exchange on social media or email. However, if you couldn’t share the content of those conversations with your spouse then you should stop before it gets worse.

2) Taking time away from work or family to be online: You use every spare time to be online. When that is not enough you make excuses to get away and chat. There is an expectation and an excitement to get to the computer and talk to that person.

3) Feeling more connected by interacting with the person (or people) online: Those are signs of unmet emotional needs in your real relationship, but don’t go blaming on your spouse for these needs being unmet. They are your responsibility to identify, to share and to ask for what you want in the relationship. If you are not addressing your needs in your marriage, it can be tempting to seek out others online. It feels safe to share when behind the protection of a computer and the false assumption that others will accept you the way you are…or pretend to be.

4) Keeping the relationship online is not satisfying anymore: You want to meet your virtual friend. Even if the setting is as harmless as a coffee shop, the intent of the meeting is to bring the virtual relationship to the real world. Once again you have to ask yourself: “can I share with my spouse that I meeting this person”? If the answer is no, then you have an online affair in your hands.

It is still very confusing to define what an online affair is. The boundaries can only be defined by you and your spouse. Some couples are ok with “no physical contact online friends”, whether others will not stand for any kind of interaction. Pay attention to your motivations to seek out people outside your marriage. That is the key to improving your relationship.

 

About the Author: Patricia Cochran is a marriage counselor with The Marriage and Family Clinic. She is passionate about helping couples and families to feel connected again. In her spare time, she is busy with her toddler and enjoying friends and family time.

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