A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about a website that helps married people find other married people with whom to start affairs. Since the good people at wordpress are kind enough to provide me with stats about what folks are looking for when they stumble across my site, I have discovered that most of the people coming through this blog lately are reading that particular article and searching for the term ‘online affair.’
It makes sense that this is one of the most-searched terms on people’s finger tips these days. As the world at our door grows larger and larger via the connections we can make online, humans will continue to do what we’re good at–explore new things. However for some, exploring this new frontier has proved to be anything but harmless fun. Rather, it has allowed them to put themselves into positions that both they and their partners may view as the new gray area of relationship ethics. So how will you know if you’re starting to sail some dangerous waters? Here are a few warning signs:
1) Don’t ask don’t tell: Are parts or all of your online relationship a secret? The best litmus test for knowing if your interactions with an online “friend” are starting to stray into an emotional affair is to ask yourself if you would be afraid or ashamed for your partner to read anything you have exchanged between the two of you. Yes, I know, your online amiga or amigo may be a much better listener, or more sympathetic, or funnier than your real-life spouse. But, that person also doesn’t see you in your dirty underwear or listen to you snore at night. It’s easy to build up intimacy in cyber space. Even if you have known or know your pen pal in real life, that is very different than 24-hour contact. The very fact that you are starting to share personal details of your life is a warning sign. You are building intimacy with every click of your mouse. Emotional infidelity can pave the way towards physical infidelity by creating the illusion that you are meant to be together because you understand one another so well. This is particularly true if you are sharing derogatory information about your partner and recieving support in your frustration with him or her.
2) Take a look at me now: Are you sharing pictures of yourself with your online friend or getting pictures of him or her? It doesn’t matter if these photos are sexual in nature, or a shot of you in front of great grandma’s house. This indicates that it has become important to you or to your friend to “know” one another in an increasingly personal way. Trading pictures is often the first step to initiating other forms of offline contact.
3) Thinking it over: Are you spending increasing amounts of time thinking about when you can next get online to write to, chat with, or web cam your friend? As the thoughts become more intrusive, they not only interfere with your ‘real’ life, but they further enforce the distance that is growing between you and your current partner. As you allow that distance to grow, and focus all your emotional energy into your online relationship, you are creating more of the problems in your primary relationship you may be seeking to escape by engaging with someone else.
There are many reasons why both men and women seek emotional or physical intimacy outside of their primary relationships. If you believe that your actions are starting to put your relationship at risk, or if you think your spouse might be seeking connection outside of your relationship, there is help. Individual and/or couples therapy can help you sort out what to do next, and how to move forward, whatever that means to you, in a healthy way. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them here, and I’ll do my best to briefly respond so that the folks who are stumbling across this blog can get some additional, tailored help.
Your Partner in Healing,
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