Online Affairs – What They Are, How They Start and the Damage They Cause

online affairsOne thing that we’re somewhat surprised about is the number of people who we communicate with whose spouse has had an online affair. No physical connection whatsoever.

And when we say no physical connection, we mean that the affair relationship is carried out completely over the Internet. They almost never meet in person – though they often plan to meet at some point.

What’s apparent also with these online affairs is that the cheater can easily rationalize the relationship as being one of friendship or “harmless” flirting as opposed to an affair since they aren’t actually coming in contact with the other person.

However, since these relationships usually contain all the elements that are found in “normal” emotional and physical affairs – secrecy, deception, confidential sharing of feelings, etc. – there is no question that they should be considered cheating and can be every bit as dangerous to a marriage as other types of infidelity.

When it comes right down to it, any kind of behavior with sexual overtones that is kept secret from the spouse feels like an affair to the spouse if/when they find out about it. And even if the spouse doesn’t know about it, keeping this kind of secret usually creates distance between the couple and interferes with the degree of closeness in the relationship.

So what classifies as an online affair?

Well, obviously it’s the connection with a person on Facebook or some other site that culminates in secret communications. But it’s also the porn sites, “have an affair” sites, dating sites, chat rooms and forums where this type of activity can play out. And don’t forget about email!

Below are some statistics about online affairs from a DivorceMag survey.

  • Only 46% of men believe that online affairs are adultery.
  • 80% think it’s OK to talk with a stranger identified as the opposite sex. 75% thinks it’s OK to visit an adult site.
  • One-third of divorce litigation is caused by online affairs.
  • Approximately 70% of time on-line is spent in chat rooms or sending e-mail; of these interactions, the vast majority are romantic in nature.
  • Because of the anonymity, affordability, and accessibility of Internet sexual resources, the computer can accelerate the transition from “at risk” to “addicted,” as well as the progression of sex addiction in those with a history of prior sexual compulsivity.
  • 8-10 percent of Internet users become hooked on cyber sex.
  • Spouses who get hooked on Internet porn are a growing complaint among spouses filing for divorce, according to a survey of 350 divorce attorneys. “If there’s dissatisfaction in the existing relationship, the Internet is an easy way for people to scratch the itch,” said lawyer J. Lindsey Short, Jr., president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, which conducted the study.
  • 57% of people have used the Internet to flirt.
  • 38% of people have engaged in explicit online sexual conversation and 50% of people have made phone contact with someone they chatted with online.

How they start: A Typical Scenario of the Progression of Online Affairs

One of our favorite authors, the late Peggy Vaughan (Monogamy Myth) created a piece where she describes the typical scenario of how online affairs progress and her reflections about the scenario.

It’s obvious from her reflections that online affairs are every bit as addictive, hurtful and painful as emotional or physical affairs and need to be dealt with and recovered from in similar fashion.

  1. You spend more and more time Online.

Online interactions provide an “escape” from the realities of day-to-day living.

The fantasy world online can make the real world seem dull and boring.

The sheer numbers of people create unlimited potential for “newness.”

  1. You meet someone interesting Online.

You share confidences: hopes, fears, fantasies.

The intense sharing brings you closer and closer together.

You fantasize about being more than online friends.

You become infatuated with your “friend” and want more and more interaction.

You feel like you’re “in love.”

  1. Your primary partner suspects/knows about your online friend.

You deny or rationalize about your online activity.

Your partner becomes more and more suspicious and threatened.

You ignore or deny the impact this is having on your partner.

Your partner learns more and is devastated by the situation.

You tell yourself that since there’s no actual sex involved, it shouldn’t matter.

You grow closer to your online friend and more distant from your partner.

  1. You want to meet your online friend in person.

You feel like “soul-mates” or that you were “meant for each other.”

You consider “risking it all” to see your online friend.

You either meet and engage in sex or you don’t and feel like “star-crossed lovers.”

  1. Your life has been changed in ways you never intended.

Your online relationship ends—and your “real” one may end as well.

 

Reflections on this scenario:

The above scenario is so common as to allow for some general observations. First, any new connection is going to be exciting, but it may not be the particular person who makes the difference.

The excitement has more to do with the “kind” of relationship than to the specific feelings about a “real” person. In any new relationship (whether or not it begins online), people present the best sides of themselves; it’s not reflective of the whole person functioning in the real world.

Whatever loss you feel when the “Online Affair” ends is the loss of a “fantasy,” not the real thing. All too often we think of “love” only as the initial “heady feelings of love.” Falling in love (or “new love”) produces some of the most intense feelings you will ever experience, but it doesn’t last.

While it may be a fantastic experience, much of the intensity of the feeling is inherent in its newness and novelty. Once a “fantasy” love takes on all the real-life responsibilities of a long-term relationship, the feelings either make the transition into the next, deeper stage of love, or they wither. So comparing the feelings in a new relationship with the feelings of a long-term marriage is like comparing apples and oranges.

As for the impact on the primary relationship, it’s common to rationalize an online affair as being OK because it’s “not really an affair.” But it often has the potential for being as devastating to the partner as a sexual affair. (In fact, most people whose partners have a sexual affair find that they recover from the fact that their partner had sex with someone else before they recover from the fact that they were deceived.)

We like to think that deception is only involved when there’s outright lying involved. But a more accurate definition of a lack of honesty in a relationship is “withholding relevant information.” Anything that is deliberately hidden from a partner (whether it’s the fact of being involved in an online affair or the specifics of the online interactions) creates an emotional distance that presents a serious problem that is difficult to overcome.

So while people may disagree about the “definition” of an affair, there’s no mistaking the impact of “Online Affairs” on the partner who is feeling hurt and threatened. When these hurt feelings are ignored or dismissed as unreasonable, it shows a “lack of caring” that is far more of a threat to the relationship than the “affairs” themselves.

Online Affairs often lead to the diminishing or destruction of primary relationships—although this was not the original intention. And in hindsight, many people who wind up having affairs recognize that they could have/should have known what they were getting into, but they simply blocked it out. A common lament is, “I didn’t intend to have an affair.”

When it comes to Online Affairs, it’s not just a question of whether it’s “wrong,” but whether it’s “smart.” In looking for something “better in life” or a way to “get more out of life,” people often wind up with less. It’s important to find some other avenue for igniting the positive “alive” feelings that are a big part of the enticement of Online Affairs. Their appeal can serve as a signal to rethink all aspects of our life and determine what can be done to feel more “alive” that is rooted in reality (instead of fantasy) – and that does not come with such a high price.

 

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4 Responses to Online Affairs – What They Are, How They Start and the Damage They Cause

  1. Suzyqnomore April 9, 2015 at 8:43 pm #

    5 years ago today my husband said to me as we drove home from our child’s event “I can’t do this anymore”. That was the first bomb. Weeks later the cell phone records revealed his multiple calls and texts to his “on line” friend before and I believe during the game we sat together watching. My husband, a pillar in the community, Mr. High Road, Mr. Moral was in the throws of an on line “thing” with his high school sweetheart. To this day he has not called it an affair. To the best of my knowledge they did not meet, but considering his willingness to hide and lie about what was going on, I’m not sure. But then it probably is what allows him to carry on with a clear conscious? The things a person will do to justify actions. It was another 4 weeks before I forced the truth out of him after he disappeared for a ridiculous amount of time to “get gas” in order to talk with her.

    We have put the marriage back together and I readily admit it was not in good shape at the time. We were excellent roommates and good co parents but had not taken care of our relationship. I did, do, and always will love him dearly. He is a good man. He screwed up big time. He hasn’t really owned that screw up to my satisfaction. He has done a wonderful job of taking care of us once we got through the ugly stuff, and boy was it ugly. He vented a lot of anger at me, plenty of it justified. I am a classic with drawer, I really can’t handle conflict very well. But neither does he. Some joint counseling. I’m still doing some individual, but not very frequently these days.

    Part of me thinks he did it originally as a sort of “exit affair” move-coward. I didn’t exit. I put my heart and soul into us, which he said I wasn’t capable of doing. Eventually he put himself back into us. It’s very very good, better than before. And yet…

    I still hurt. His choices, that he blamed me for as I gave him no other choice, you see, still hurt. The words he spoke in anger still ring in my thoughts too often. We do not talk about it. He has not told me details. We will eventually have to have another “reconning” as I can’t overlook this forever. I’m still waiting for her to reach out again. It was intense. Crazy stuff.

    Sometimes, certain days are just hard and today is one of them. Husband will not remember this day, he doesn’t think that way. I won’t remind him.

  2. TrustingGod April 25, 2015 at 4:22 pm #

    I know a lot of people on here have a specific person that their spouse cheated with, whether it was a PA or an EA, and I have felt grateful that my situation did not involve intense feelings for one person–that I know of. Finding and reading only a fraction of the messages and comments left me reeling and hurt more than I’d ever thought possible. But I was glad he wasn’t in too much of an affair fog that he couldn’t easily stop contacting the main woman he was communicating with, and was willing to stop being “friends” online with a number of other women that he had no business complimenting and having inappropriate and sexual conversations with. So, when I see how bad it could’ve been, I feel relieved, but then less so when I remember how alone I felt, how much he picked fights with me and made me feel like he hated me, all during a very stressful time in my job and during a difficult pregnancy. I needed every single thing he was giving and saying to them. I needed support and love and I didn’t get it because he was searching for someone he felt was better than me online. As a result, all of the self-esteem I had been clinging to while going through a major health crisis, followed by long-term critism and losing my reputation at work, was completely destroyed. Instead, I saw myself compared to other women, and felt ugly, fat, out-of-shape, and old, oh, so very, very old. And I had only just turned 40. But what was I to think when I saw my husband’s conversations with twenty-somethings, telling them how hot they were, even trying to win over girls with boyfriends, claiming he really knew how to treat a woman? When I read conversations in which he told the woman I caught him texting that he was feeling hot and wished she was there by his side? Because I was by his side, and I was wondering why someone who always had such a high sex drive didn’t seem interested in me at all anymore?

    I want to laugh sometimes when I think how excited I was when my hair started growing back in, after losing so much during my illness. Because what can that help, if your husband is not interested sexually in you anymore, and the nicest thing he says to you during your pregnancy is that you haven’t gained a lot of weight, so you won’t have so much to lose when the baby is born?

    I wish I could say that online affairs were the one error in an otherwise upright man. But I have already spent years trying to protect myself and our family from the consequences of his actions, and after finding out about this I sometimes don’t understand why I feel that I’m supposed to forgive, yet again, a person who doesn’t show true remorse or make all the changes I asked for in order to begin to trust him and stay in the marriage? I feel like a fool for believing any of the lies he’s told me, and feel disrespected for the lies he expected me to believe. It’s made me doubt even more of his past actions, and realize that it is very possible he may have had a PA or more over the years. He had ample opportunity and I was convinced at one time that he was.

    Now I wonder if he realizes just exactly he has lost, and everything that I had been willing to overlook, because he wanted to feel like a Don Juan. He lost almost all of my respect, all the rekindling love that I’d been feeling, and nearly all hope that we could have a close and loving marriage. He hasn’t done enough in almost 15 months to make it better–he only succeeded in making me feel like I’m not worth anyone’s time and that I am a failure at everything, and in no way interesting or fun to be around. I have wanted to leave but felt unable to for various reasons. Now I just wish he would be the person I always thought he had the potential to be, and put true effort into our marriage. Because it would take a bona-fide miracle to make our marriage what I’d always hoped for, and to make me love and trust him again.

    It’s funny how people don’t think of online affairs as cheating when the effects on your family are the same, and when you mistreat your spouse and even defend your online “friends” and their morals. It did show me, though, how little my husband thinks of me, because it really highlighted how he’s never defended me and actually took to assaulting my character and morals to defend his actions. Like I said, a miracle is needed.

  3. CS June 29, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    Sadly I have to admit (although I’ve done it before on this very blog but in a different thread) that I had a 2 year long EA with a man I met online. Not men but one man. My marriage was in a really bad place so it was easy for me to justify it to myself at the time. I actually met him on a website for troubled marriages where people go to get a perspective on their situation. For me it did start as a simple way to vent my frustrations as I had already done it many times with my husband but with no resolution.

    So I went on line and poured my heart out then logged off never expecting what happened next. The very next day a man 20 years my senior reached out to me and told me that he sympathized with what I was going thru because he was there too. Very quickly we started chatting via Yahoo IM as this website allowed you to see the other’s email address. Everything happened so quickly that it made my head spin and suddenly I went from being depressed and crying all the time to feeling excited that someone was paying attention to me. That someone wanted to get to know me. Again I’m not excusing anything that I did but my marriage problems at that time were a breeding ground for an affair to start.

    As with most things my EA had its problems. We were both married was our biggest problem but our marriages was in different places. He and his wife had started leading separate lives years before and no longer even shared a bedroom as where I still slept beside my husband every night. At that moment when it started or in the beginning I never even thought to justify what I was doing because he was just my “friend” and he would encourage me to keep things going even after I did start to realize that my feelings felt too real for him but by then I was hooked.

    Our 2 year relationship took many twists and turns, and had many highs and lows as does any regular relationship. We or rather I would stop the affair many times because my guilt would get the best of me and we might stop talking for a day or two but eventually one of us (usually him back then) would send a simple email or text and it would start all over again.

    We were both lonely and spent much time by ourselves that we found so much comfort in being together more for the company than anything but also there was a lot of sexual talk and fantasies (as he lived 16 hours away). I felt so in love with this man and I use to tell him all the time that the only way this was going to end was badly and if someone had to get hurt I hoped that it was one of us because regardless of what our spouses was or wasn’t they didn’t deserve what we were doing but knowing this and feeling the guilt was never enough for me to stop. I just couldn’t stop and way before I ever found this website I always said he was my “drug” because the attention, in love feeling, and sexual desire is what I was missing so bad in my life…again not making excuses just explaining my thought process at that time…..

    So things did end badly….not just once but twice. The first ending I got hurt pretty bad as he told me that he had developed feelings for another woman that he worked with. I was devastated but had no reason to be but yet I was. Karma had come back and got me but good! I fell into a deeper depression than I was in before I had met him. I couldn’t help but cry all the time and want to lay in bed but sleep would never come easy for me. Six months of this and my hubby forced me to go to a doctor and get on antidepressant meds.

    I hated that I was now relying on a pill to make me happy (I’ve always been so against antidepressants) and yet I was so desperate that I would have tried anything at that moment. But then shortly after getting on the meds he contacted me again and guess what???? Yep it started again. I had not contacted him once during all this time and was hoping that I would just get over it but that never happened. I looked passed how much he had hurt me and let him back in. Only this time things were different. Not on his end but on mine. I no longer trusted him (I totally see the irony in that) and somehow my feelings had changed and weren’t what I thought they were.

    As I examined my feelings more and more (while still continuing the EA) I decided that he wasn’t what I had made him up to be in my mind and my depressed feelings weren’t so much over him….well maybe a little…but mostly the lying and deceitful person I had become. I had always been a straight shooter and had never had to hide anything or lie to my husband. His trust in me was so strong that he never (not even to this day) suspects that anything happened. I know things must have crossed his mind about why this and why that but knowing him he probably thought he shouldn’t rock the boat with my emotions because before my EA had started we were in such a bad place. I wanted a divorce so bad but I couldn’t bring myself to say that to him. I wanted out and I thought my EA was going to create an opportunity for that to happen….but when it didn’t and he hurt me like he did I had to examine what I was doing to my hubby.

    So I ended things once and for all and really he felt the same and we both knew it was over. What we had once had was gone and there was no going back. I don’t think badly of him anymore like I did after things ended the first time but rather I pity him because he is probably doing the same thing again with another woman and most of all I pity his wife but I just never got the impression that she cared for him…..maybe she’s been down this road before????? Maybe he’s done this to her all their 35 years of marriage??? I can only speculate but at any rate all I can do at this point is deal with my marriage.

    I’ve never said my husband wasn’t a great man because he is. He has always loved me so much but is totally blind to what I need emotionally even tho we’ve had countless talks about it. I’ve decided that I have to be happy with being content because a lot of people out there have things so much worse than I do and at least my husband isn’t doing to me what I did to him (although I would feel as though I deserved it if he did…..but he never will because that is who he is….he is a very loyal and trusting person….not stupid but so trusting). And I’ve decided that living with my guilt is my punishment. To many it may seem as a way for me to hide my indiscretions and seem like a totally self-serving decision but the fact is that I could never hurt him by telling him. I could never destroy his peace of mind. I could never take away his ignorance and bliss!

    I know that going forward that I will never put myself in that situation again and to the few that know me and know that situation they still can’t believe I was ever there in the first place because I’ve always been so against cheaters of any kind……but now that I’ve walked that mile I’ve also learned not to judge those that has been where I was. Nothing makes it right…..there is no justification for an EA or a PA but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

    My word of advice to anyone out there that is still in or about to go into a situation similar to what I was in I would like to say stop and really think about it. It isn’t real!!!! It seems so real in the beginning….it will seem so much more than what your actual real relationship is….but life is about picking up the pieces and moving forward. If you are in a troubled relationship with your spouse/partner an EA or PA won’t make it go away. It will only mask your problems so that you still have to deal with them later and then you will have your guilt on top of everything else. It’s not worth it in the end! You will try to justify it in every way you can but the fact of the matter is that you are hurting another person (your or their spouse) even if they are unaware…..it’s still wrong! It’s like committing the perfect crime….even if you can get away with it for a while it is still wrong and you will always have to worry about possibly being caught even after it’s over. Worst of all you will always struggle with your conscious! Because even if no one else knows….you do!

  4. Alexis B. September 23, 2015 at 11:53 am #

    Interesting article.

    I actually have an online friend that I met when I was in high school.. so we’ve been talking online for over a decade. We honestly never intend to meet. He’s not really my type. But we are really good friends. We have the same taste in music, movies, books.. we talk about everything under the sun. Everything from feeling stressed about something, to life goals. We are both married now, to people we met after we’d known each other. My husband knows that I talk to this guy. I’ll be e-mailing him, and tell my husband something that happened with this guy and his wife. It never makes me feel like I’m distant from my husband, because my friend and I have never had romantic undertones to our friendship. We even talk about sex to each other, in regards to our partners. Sometimes he’ll e-mail me a fight he had with his wife one morning, and I’ll point out what he probably did wrong and help him think of ways to fix it.

    I guess emotional affairs are all defined in the eyes of their beholders. Would my husband be disgruntled if he knew I shared a lot of intimate secrets, or vent when I’m mad about something he did? Probably. But that doesn’t make this other guy a romantic partner at all. Without sexual advances, how is having a friendship with a man any different than being friends with someone your own gender??

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