Many social network users may consider online flirting and chatting to be innocent, but some experts say that online flings can be just as damaging as a sexual dalliance. Just as with affairs conducted in person, online cheating can be a slippery slope.
In an article appearing in CBS Houston, psychotherapist Dr. Mary Jo Rapini argues that online cheating fits into the category known as an emotional affair. While some experts have distinguished online cheating from emotional cheating, Dr. Rapini says that it shares the same characteristics.
The article defines several areas in which online cheating serves to create the same damage as an emotional affair: emotional affairs are kept secret, the cheaters are not sharing their feelings with their spouse, and the cheater seeks out more time with the online fling than they do with their spouse.
In virtual affairs, the cheater using the internet to connect with other partners may not believe that they are doing anything that damages their marriage. The absence of physical contact often lures the cheater into a belief that their spouse could not possibly take offense to their behavior. When the spouse finds out about the affair, the cheater may be baffled by the response.
Dr. Rapini also stresses that in an emotional affair, including virtual affairs, the violated spouse may experience the severity of emotions associated with losing a loved one. They may experience symptoms like denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance and distrust. The victim of the affair may become obsessive about the details surrounding the discovery or the events surrounding the affair.
Some partners may find that emotional wounds are slow to heal, especially when encountering reminders of the affair. This may be evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Those who engage in online affairs may be unrealistic about their ability to hide an affair. The article stresses that divorce lawyers and even those who are not technologically savvy can trace the evidence to an affair. Cheaters, for example, may be friends on Facebook with a long log of personal messages or an eerily familiar way of commenting too often on one another’s status updates or pictures.
The article notes that in some cases, the affair begins because the cheater may be what’s referred to as an “infatuation junkie.” In this situation, the cheater is seeking out the rush that comes from a new romantic interest and may have no intention of any physical contact. To the spouse, however, this may amount to little by way of comfort
Couples can and often do recover from the pain of an emotional affair. The definition of an emotional affair is truly left up to the couple, who can determine what level of engagement with a third party is acceptable or, if unacceptable, what level is forgivable.