The Internet has become a convenient and popular way to connect with others. Whether communicating through social media or connecting in a comment thread, online conversations are, in some ways, replacing face-to-face communication. Likewise, the use of cell phones has expanded to frequent texting, now widely used to have a conversation.
An article posted in ACPI CAIT asks the question: when does connecting online with another person become cheating? Even if there is not physical contact, is it cheating to send someone a flirty text message? What about having a private joke with someone on social media?
The simple answer is, as with so many topics, it depends. Each couple needs to have a discussion about what types of conversation with another person are okay. A couple should talk about whether it violates their commitment to have one partner exchanging flirty messages, confiding in another person, or sending risqué photos via text message.
The article provides some guidelines and considerations for couples that wish to avoid betraying their spouses for an online affair.
Partners in a committed relationship need to watch for signs that they are involved in an emotional affair, or if an online relationship shows signs that it is becoming an emotional affair. One warning sign is the desire to confide in the online friend about one’s marriage or other personal information.
A person should also be concerned about the nature of an online relationship if they begin looking forward to connecting with that person online, or feel anxious to share news with that person. These types of feelings usually indicate that the relationship has strayed into dangerous territory.
If the relationship takes on a “we” nature, such as having private jokes or endorsing ideas that “we are not like the others,” the partners involved may be hurting their marriage. Warning signs also include being on the lookout for gifts that the other person might like or sharing more with that person than what is shared with a spouse.
Obvious signs are sending naked or semi-naked photos of oneself through social media or text message to another person, or coming up with special nicknames for one another. These are indications that there has been a betrayal of the committed relationship.
The nature of social media can make it easy to slip into an inappropriate relationship. For instance, if a person posted only truly neutral status updates, their page might read like a boring diary: “Fed cat… ate lunch… sat on couch and looked at Facebook.” However, a person who wants to engage with others is going to tend to post things in a status update that reveal something of who she or he is. These types of status updates are those that will get conversation rolling, and if one person begins to talk with the original poster more and more, a special friendship can develop.
Secrecy Doesn’t Help
Openness can prevent some of the slippery slope that leads to a cyber-affair. If a couple does not share an email account, they can share passwords to email and social media to make it less tempting to carry on secret conversations.
Finally, if a marriage becomes compromised by the online behaviors of one partner, the couple should not despair. Therapy can help couples recover from emotional affairs and find ways to cultivate openness and honesty in their relationship.