Nothing undermines a relationship more than infidelity. It’s one of the most common reasons given for divorce (55 percent). Until recently, infidelity was mostly associated with a sexual encounter or emotional connection with a person other than one’s partner. But since the booming of the Internet and social networks like Facebook, practices such as cybersex and cyberflirting have appeared. Online infidelity is perceived by the betrayed partner to be as traumatizing as actual infidelity.
With the development of the Internet and cell phones, infidelity now also includes a romantic or sexual text and an exchange of flirty messages and pictures with someone other than the partner. Most spouses feel as deceived, angry and wounded by online infidelity as they would if skin-to-skin adultery had taken place. A recent poll revealed that 85 percent of women and 74 percent of men perceive these cyber practices as cheating.
Affairs happen for multiple reasons. Unhappiness is the main reason 47 percent of people are unfaithful to their partners, followed by boredom, lack of sexual satisfaction, revenge or being under the influence of alcohol. In this stage, the person is vulnerable to feeling sexual attraction for someone who is not his or her partner in order to fill the emptiness. Sometimes an emotional connection is enough to make the person develop strong feelings for someone new.
Problems that arise from online infidelity include loss of trust, a decrease in self-esteem and a sense of isolation. Unfaithful people start experiencing difficulty becoming aroused by their partners, avoid sex and feel emotional distress in their relationships. Fifty-two percent of cybersex users lose interest in relational sex. They also start demanding privacy and making excuses for spending time alone. Repetitive online sexting can become an addiction.
If the person is addicted, a therapist can offer support and assistance in the development of a plan to change the behavior. Tips include moving the computer to an open area, restricting personal online usage, going online only when family members are present, and using filters or blocking software.
The betrayed partner, on the other hand, usually goes through emotions that can be difficult to control. The first reaction is usually anger, but the pain can be devastating if not addressed. Signs of depression can appear and, if left untreated, can lead to serious impairment in daily functioning and even suicide, which is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Most of the symptoms of depression a betrayed person can experience include feelings of sorrow or emptiness, reduced interest in events or activities that used to be enjoyed, an increase or decrease in appetite or weight, change in sleep patterns, loss of energy, feeling worthless, difficulty concentrating and suicidal thoughts or intentions. A therapist can decide if the person is in a depressive mood and help through medicine or therapy.
Recovering from infidelity is a difficult process that includes three stages: the first one is dealing with the traumatic impact of infidelity; the second is creating a meaning around why the affair occurred; and the third is working together to move forward as a couple. Marriage counseling can help to put the affair into perspective, identify issues that might have contributed to the affair, teach how to rebuild and strengthen the relationship and avoid divorce. Research has found that while 63 percent of people say they would get divorced if they discovered their spouse was unfaithful, in actuality, 50 percent to 60 percent of married couples who experience infidelity stay together.
Moving forward as a couple after infidelity can be difficult, especially when the trust has been broken. But if both partners work together, it is possible to recover and thrive.