Why Did My Cheating Spouse Have an Online Affair?

Anonymity, Convenience, Escape

Online affairs can happen quickly and easily. Image © Lucas Raggers

The discovery that your partner is having an affair can be upsetting. But if it is an online affair, it can also be confusing and bring up many questions. You might wonder if it meets the definition of real infidelity, why they sought an online affair when you were available, and what is appealing about having a virtual affair. You may also want to know whether an online affair is a sign of sex addiction, of which there are many types

Growing numbers of couples are affected by cybersex infidelity. Online affairs can be difficult to understand, both for the injured partner and for therapists who are accustomed to working with couples affected by in-person affairs. While your first reaction may be to try and get full disclosure from your cheating spouse in the hope of understanding why it happened, be patient. Discovering and understanding your partner's online affair is a process that takes time.

Factors Leading to Online Affairs

Here are some reasons that people in relationships may pursue an online affair:

  • Anonymity: Online affairs allow people who are in relationships already to seek out affairs without their potential partners knowing their real-life identity. You can hide behind a screen name and use a fake photo, creating a new persona. You don't run the risk of being easily identified by a friend, neighbor, or your partner.  Meeting via an app or in a chat room eliminates the human aspects of meeting someone, such as facial expression, body language, and even physical appearance.
  • Convenience: Online affairs are easy to initiate, as there are many apps, chat rooms, and websites set up for this specific purpose. Smartphones have given the technology even greater flexibility, as now most people can access the Internet at no additional cost from wherever they may be, at any time of day. Initial curiosity can rapidly escalate to an online affair.
  • Escape: People who choose to have an online affair rather than an in-person affair may rationalize that it is not a real affair. The people concerned have not met, and may even live on opposite sides of the globe. It can feel like an escape from the mundane reality of relationships and activities in the real world, operating far more in the domain of fantasy.

Will It Last?

Online affairs are typically short-lived, but there is no shortage of new partners with whom to start a new virtual affair. A person can slip into becoming addicted to online affairs in the same way they can get addicted to other behaviors. If you or your partner are compulsively seeking sexual contact online, you can and should seek help.

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. 2007.

Hertlein KM, Piercy FP. Essential Elements of Internet Infidelity Treatment. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 2012;38:257-270. doi:10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00275.x. 

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