Written by: Caitlin Edwards
I have previously written about infidelity and its impact on relationships. While reviewing my previous posts, I realized I had not addressed infidelity online. As technology is ubiquitous in our lives, it feels important to address this aspect of infidelity. Although we are constantly surrounded by technology, online relationships, especially online infidelity, is often seen in a different light than in-person relationships. You can end up asking yourself ‘is it really infidelity if it occurred online?’ This question can be hard to answer and often depends on the explicit and implicit agreements couples have created for their relationship. If you are asking yourself that question, most signs would point to yes. Although in-person and online infidelity may look different, there are components to infidelity that are common between the two.
Can you cheat online?
I would hazard a guess that the immediacy when answering this question would on which generation you belong to. I know my millennial and GenZ clients would immediately respond yes. Yet, my clients who are members of GenX and the baby boomers may find that answer to be more complicated and need exploration.
Online relationships are accessible to many people across a variety of platforms. These relationships can be beneficial: you can find people online who share your experiences, you can learn from, and may appreciate parts of you that struggle to be seen in person to person contact. You also have the opportunity to be different parts of yourself online. The person who is shy in person may find courage to talk openly online. It can be easy to delve into deep aspects of yourself, share your hopes, dreams, and fantasies if you feel seen and heard by your online community in ways that might be missing in person to person contact.
So, when does this become an affair? The ability to distinguish between infidelity and friendship can be more difficult when you are not face to face with your potential affair partner. Yet, online relationships can be just as damaging as in person affairs. Again, this depends on the agreements in the relationship, but there are certain signs that your online friendship may be more.
What are the signs of an emotional affair?
- You cannot stop thinking about your online relationship. Does your online friendship take up as much space mentally as your in-person friendships? If the answer is no, it would be worthwhile to explore why and if it feels closer to a more emotionally intimate relationship.
- You cannot share. It is important to ask: ‘can I share everything that we’ve talked about online with my partner?’ If the immediate answer is not ‘no,’ then, again, it might be worth exploring what you feel you cannot share, why not, and the meaning behind not being able to talk to your partner.
- Taking time away from your partner to be online. Are you prioritizing your online relationship over the relationship with your partner? Developing friendships can be exciting, but if you find yourself cancelling plans or avoiding your partner, your online relationship may be approaching an emotional affair.
- Keeping your relationship with your partner is no longer satisfying. Are you happy in your relationship with your partner? Moreover, how would you feel if the situation was reversed? Checking in about how you are experiencing the relationship is important, but your online friendship may be transforming into an emotional affair if you start comparing, find a once satisfying relationship no longer beneficial, or, if you imagine your partner behaving in the same way, would feel uncomfortable.
What do we do?
If you find yourself experiencing what may be online infidelity, counseling can help. Individual counseling may be a great way to explore your values while couples counseling can help you and your partner explore the impact of online relationships.
For more information on our services, click here: Infidelity Therapy