Many argue that an emotional affair isn’t the same as a traditional sexual affair since there is no physical intimacy going on, but marriage counselors and psychologists tells us it can be equally as devastating.
By Hailey Terry and Brittony Schmitt
When a couple gets married they don’t think about infidelity sneaking in and wreaking havoc, but it happens more often than we realize. It is typical to picture sexual betrayal when the word “infidelity” is mentioned, but infidelity encompasses much more than that. Today, technology is constantly changing and improving. With those advancements we are also faced with a growing number of people committing online infidelity. This results in an emotional affair (which often escalates to a sexual affair) and has the potential to be just as devastating as a traditional physical affair.
Online infidelity is a “romantic and/or sexual relationship with someone other than the spouse, which begins with an online contact and is maintained mainly through electronic conversations that occur through e-mail and chat rooms” (Mao & Raguram, 2009). Many could argue that an emotional affair isn’t the same as a traditional sexual affair since there is no physical intimacy going on, therefore no trust has been broken. According to the American Psychological Association an online affair can be “just as devastating as the real-world variety, triggering feelings of insecurity, anger and jealousy.” But an online affair could easily be hidden since one can delete the browsing history, emails, messages, etc. on a computer so that your partner will never know about the new blooming relationship. What your partner doesn’t know won’t hurt them, right? When a person engages in an online relationship it is easy to remain anonymous, which means they “feel more comfortable revealing intimate details of their lives to relative strangers because the relationship exists online in cyberspace” (Smith, 2011). So things that they normally wouldn’t reveal are now being told to a complete stranger. This causes them to grow closer and encourages deeper feelings in their fantasy relationship and to drift farther away from the actual relationship they do have. Let’s face it, when comparing fantasy to reality, fantasy will always win.
What exactly is considered an act of online infidelity? Participants in a study called, Exploring Perceptions of Online Infidelity, define four different types of activities: 1.) online sex, 2.) emotional involvement with an online contact, 3.) online dating (including making plans to meet and actually meeting) and 4.) other online sexual interactions. It was also concluded in the study that spouses, both men and women, are hurt by both sexual and emotional betrayal from their partner. When asked about the four different scenarios, 60-82 percent of the participants said that emotional betrayal was more hurtful than sexual betrayal.
How does this all start? Usually it starts quite innocently, with one of the partners convincing themselves that their needs are not being met by their spouse. A spouse who feels neglected may seek comfort elsewhere and turn to the online world, often with innocent intentions. Upon finding a listening ear (for the emotionally needy) or a willing partner (for the physically needy) the person may justify their actions because it is a virtual world, and not our traditional idea of infidelity. Unfortunately this type of interaction can lead to continued unfaithful activities, and can cause them to become more connected to the online partner (or partners) more so than their spouse. Once this happens, the marriage really suffers because more time and effort is being placed on the online relationship than on the marriage.
So how can they make sure that our marriage does not fall prey to the dangers of infidelity of any kind, let alone online infidelity? Affair prevention may seem like a taboo topic (nobody wants to think their relationship is susceptible), but it can be a good way to agree on boundaries. One of those boundaries needs to be never forming emotional relationships with people online. On-line relationships usually begin as curious friendships, but then they progress to something else. Couple should agree in advance as to how they will handle internet access. Complete transparency in internet usage is critical to protect the marriage relationship. Nothing should be out of bounds for your spouse to view or monitor.
There are technological tools that can be agreed to even before the marriage takes place, programs such as “TimeSnapper.” This program takes a screenshot of your computer monitor at regular intervals and records how it is being used. It helps with prevention of pornography usage as well as inappropriate chatting. Something like this has application for protecting the entire family. This is not about snooping; this is about protecting your relationship and your family.
Another great thing for each spouse to do throughout marriage is make sure their other half’s needs are met. A spouse who feels loved and appreciated will probably feel less inclined to search for other ways to fill their emotional or physical needs.
When a couple is armed with affair-prevention knowledge, they can feel more at ease as they enter into their marriage contract; a contract which constitutes lifelong loyalty and love. A couple may correctly suspect that their lives or marriage will fall upon hard times, but they can more confidently prevent those hard times from escalating into an extra-marital affair, and can navigate through life and marriage fortified with loyalty and trust.
Henline, B.H., Howard, M.D., & Lamke, L.K. “Exploring perceptions of online infidelity”
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Mao, A., & Raguram, A., “Online infidelity: The new challenge to marriages” Indian J
Psychiatry. 2009 Oct-Dec. Retrieved: 2/7/14 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2802380/
Smith, B.L. “Are Internet affairs different?” American Psychology Association. March 2011, Vol
42, No.3 Print version: page 48. Retrieved: 2/8/14 http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/03/internet.aspx