Social networking sites like Facebook make it easy for users to make plans, spread the word about a social gathering, catch up with an old acquaintance or even find a plumber or cooking tip. However, when it comes to infidelity, social media might be making connections too easy.
Some may not categorize behaviors like sexting, in which a suggestive text or nude photo is sent over a mobile device, as a traditional form of cheating. Flirting over Twitter is not the same as having contact. But a spouse may not agree.
These new avenues for connecting with the opposite sex have led some experts to find new ways to categorize behaviors that look a lot like cheating but don’t involve personal contact. Rather than viewing online unfaithfulness the same as traditional affairs, some experts are using terms like “cyber infidelity” or “virtual affair.”
While news stories have chronicled the charades of prominent politicians that engage in sexting and other types of cyber infidelity, the widespread use of social media and mobile devices puts everyone at risk for potential temptation.
A 2010 survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that 81 percent of divorce lawyers have reported an increase in social networking related divorces over the past five years. Facebook was the main site used to point to evidence of an affair, with MySpace and Twitter at a distant second and third for proof of straying.
Experts point out that virtual affairs are not just a case of men fooling around when their wives are not looking. The public perception of cyber infidelity has been colored by the high profile men that have been caught misbehaving. As with any affair, it takes two.
Some signs that a spouse could be engaging in an online affair include quickly changing computer desktop windows or clicking off a phone when someone walks in the room. Computer login passwords could also mean that secrets are being kept. Another possible sign of a cyber affair is a spouse that spends more time online than engaging with family. A cyber cheating spouse may also answer text messages compulsively.
As with any affair, a spouse that is involved in a virtual affair may suddenly become much nicer to assuage their guilt. However, a suddenly surly spouse may be one that is attempting to justify their behavior by spurring their partner to anger.
An individual that discovers that their spouse is engaged in a virtual affair should seek out the help of a counselor or therapist immediately. Finding evidence of cyber infidelity can be difficult to navigate, but many marriages may weather the storm. It is up to each couple to determine how cheating is defined, and what level of misbehavior can still result in reconciliation.