Online infidelity: Social media, pornography, and betrayal


This 2008 article from Family Therapy Magazine [click here for full text] is now nearly 10 years old, but predicted the future with startling accuracy. I will give my comments first, and then post a small portion of the article.

My comments:

I get more and more of these cases, and it's not just pornography, it's social media. While one might think of these as "emotional affairs," or that "sexting" is not sex, consider that in 2011, 33% of all U.S. divorces cited Facebook use as a major factor. Clearly, the other partner sees it as an affair!

On a related note, I think the most striking and unique quality of online infidelity is that the unfaithful partner usually feels like he or she really hasn't done anything wrong, and that the betrayed spouse is "overreacting." This attitude of dismissal can actually make the affair more painful for the betrayed partner. Additionally, the unfaithful partner may be difficult to convince that therapy is needed, because it "wasn't real." That's a big problem. So consider the following:

A section from the article:

The effects of online infidelity can be significant—to the individual, the couple, and the family. Some individuals believe that online behaviors should not be seen as infidelity or cheating because no physical contact occurs. Although such statements may be heard in the office, at school, or even in the clinical setting, research suggests a different reality for the betrayed partner. Whitty (2005) found that cyber-cheating is experienced as very real.

Online infidelity is defined by most as cheating and in most cases the emotional pain and feelings of betrayal replicate or mimic that resulting from more traditional forms of infidelity. Cyber-infidelity, perhaps more than traditional infidelity, results in significant self-esteem issues for the betrayed spouse. As one example, a wife whose husband has been involved in an online relationship may wonder how she got to the point where she has been replaced by a computer. She may question why her husband prefers to spend time sexually stimulating himself in front of a computer screen or sharing his concerns and feelings with an online partner as opposed to spending time with her. If the online betrayal involved pornography, she may compare herself physically to the models portrayed on the screen wondering how she can ever compete. Subsequently, she could lose faith in herself, her husband, and the marriage.

As another example, a husband whose wife gets up in the middle of the night to chat with her new online friend will begin to question why his wife does not find him physically and emotionally appealing. He may start to wonder what he can do to win her back. In some cases, partners may talk themselves into thinking that the effort to repair the relationship is not worth it and that they deserve better.