Internet infidelity - Is it cheating?

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With advances in technology come new websites, dating apps and chat rooms on an almost daily basis. As a result, there have been an increasing number of couples whose foundations have been all but shattered with new-age online affairs, coined ‘internet infidelity’. With the accessibility, affordability and anonymity that comes with being online, sexual promiscuity has taken on a new form, and individuals report both sexual and emotional interactions that occur completely behind a computer or smart-phone screen.

At the uncovering of sexually charged text messages, secret profiles on dating apps and Snapchat accounts you didn’t know about, this topic begs the questions

1. is it cheating? and

2. does it mean the end of the relationship?

Unfortunately for those of you looking for a solid answer to question 1, the idea of cheating is subjective. As an example, some clients I work with consider that watching pornography or using Google to find pictures of topless or naked celebrities is breaking the boundaries of a relationship. Other clients have no problem that their significant other is a member of cybersex chat rooms, so long as the exchanges remain anonymous and there is no physical contact that comes with their online relationships.

Regardless of the answers clients give me, if I have learnt anything from my studies and my experience in working with people presenting with this issue, my advice is this; confirm your relationship contract BEFORE you are faced with disparity of opinion. When I say relationship contract, I don’t literally mean a written and signed agreement between two parties that requires a witness (although this would be totally acceptable). My advice is that when you commit to being in a relationship with someone in this modern age, clarify the boundaries of the relationship both online and offline, and your expectations in maintaining the trust and commitment to one another.

This isn’t just important for people entering into new relationships; if you are already in a relationship and/or married, have the conversation now. It’s never too late, and if you can clarify the boundaries before you are hit with a technological bombshell, you will save yourself the potential heartbreak of not clarifying your expectations. I do offer with this advice a caution to those of you already in committed relationships, if you bring this conversation up having not had it in the past, be accepting of the response. It may be that your partner’s expectations of fidelity differ from yours and neither of you were aware.

Open communication is key in this instance (and every other instance I’ve ever seen in my therapy room). This is because there is a common theme amongst couples or individuals I see as a result of some online sexual or emotional affair; most had not discussed whether non-physical sexual expression with another person actually constitutes as cheating. In most instances, the betrayed partner considers the act equivalent to physically cheating, particularly when there are emotions, sexting, and even pictures, involved. On the other hand, the partner responsible for the exchange of the texts, sexts, photos, videos and/or chat room involvement, proclaims that there has been no physical cheating and therefore the offence, although a breach of trust, is not comparable to ‘real’ cheating.

If you are in the midst of an internet affair, or have just found out your partner has crossed a technological boundary, book an appointment with a qualified Sex and Relationship Therapist. The truth is that many relationships grow and even strengthen with honest, open communication and appropriate clarification of the relationship contract.