The Truth About Online Cheating

Even if your bodies never touch, you can seriously harm your relationship

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Time was, infidelity was a matter of clandestine meetings, lies about "business trips," awkward excuses about the scent of perfume on a dress shirt. Now it's possible to become involved with someone other than your spouse or partner by hooking up online. But while it may seem innocent enough—after all, you aren't in physical contact—online cheating really is just that: cheating. 

If you've been grappling with this question for any reason (you've been "seeing" someone over the internet or you're looking for a sexual outlet and are considering surfing around online for it), here's why you should think twice before you log on if you're married or in a committed relationship.

 

Cheating Is Cheating, No Matter How It's Done

Online infidelity is a kind of emotional affair in which the people involved develop a sexually intimate relationship without actually meeting—what's known as cybersex. In fact, they may never even see each other's face or hear each other's voice. Without actual physical contact, then, intimacy via the internet may not seem like a real affair.

However, an online affair is very much like a physical fling, one that can do lasting harm to a relationship or even an entire family. It can distract the unfaithful partner's attention from his or her real-life partner and children, robbing them of important time and attention and causing them to feel neglected and taken for granted. 

And like traditional affairs, those that take place over the internet inevitably involve secrecy and lies that have the potential to destroy the trust that's necessary to hold a relationship together.

Even if the person being cheated on never discovers what's been going on behind his or her back, the bond of trust is broken when a spouse or partner is unfaithful. People having affairs also tend to get angry with their real-life partner, which can lead to further hurt. 

The Danger of Going Too Far

Once two people begin having cybersex, they can quickly and easily get carried away.

Some people even become addicted to online sex, which adds another dimension of difficulty to the situation. For a person addicted to cybersex, time spent in front of a computer or screen will likely take up more and more free time, leaving less time and attention for spouse or partner, and family.

Another danger of cybersex is that the two people engaging in the affair decide to meet in person. At that point, of course, online infidelity can become physical infidelity, which takes cheating to a different level.

It's important to keep in mind that online infidelity, like real-life infidelity, is often a sign that there are problems in a relationship and so ending an online affair may not be enough to put the incident to rest or prevent it from happening again. So rather than turning to the internet to try to find happiness or whatever you feel might be missing from your current relationship, talk to your spouse or partner. Consider couples counseling or therapy for yourself if you can't seem to stop engaging in the sexually compulsive behavior. You will save your loved ones from being deeply hurt and yourself from living with guilt or shame. 

Sources:

Carnes, P., Delmonico, D., Griffin, E. & Moriarity, J. In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free of Compulsive Online Sexual Behavior. Second edition. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Young, K., Cooper, A., O'Mara, J. & Buchanan, J. "Online Infidelity: A New Dimension in Couple Relationships with Implications for Evaluation and Treatment." Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 2000, 7:59-74.