From Guest Contributor, Dr. Linda Mintle

At 42, Tara is married but bored. She regularly engages in on-line dating as a way to escape her mundane life. In the past year, she has dated 20 men. She secretly meets them a few times a week and enjoys the time they spend together. Lacking physical affection in her marriage, she turned to the Internet when her husband refused marriage counseling. With two children, Tara is reluctant to divorce so she posted an ad on-line. Her thinking, “I just want someone with whom I click.”

Tara is part of a growing trend of married people who use social networks and the Internet to cheat on their spouses. She even frequents sites dedicated to arranging affairs for married people.

On-line cheating can be defined as two people in on-line communication that is outside the appropriate boundary for marriage. The relationship does not have to be physical to be considered an affair. However, emotional affairs can end up in physical affairs like South Caroline Governor Mark Sanford’s relationship did.

As tempting as it may be to blame the Internet for on-line infidelity, it is simply a tool that provides an easy way to connect with new or past relationships. On-line infidelity is a symptom of marital distress. Relationship problems are the root cause of infidelity and the Internet provides a technological form of temptation. Problems in a marriage can send one or both partners looking outside the marriage for intimate connections. Friendship, support, understanding, respect, attention, caring and concern are sought on-line instead of in the marriage. When basic emotional needs are not met, partners may turn to cyberspace where an endless array of willing partners are waiting to connect.

On the Net, you have anonymity, accessibility, affordability and opportunity. You can sit in the privacy of your own home, deal with your boredom, emotional distress and relationship problems by entering a chat room, bulletin board, social network or website and become whomever you choose. On-line relationships can be exciting, sexy, interesting and entertaining. What you think may be harmless flirting can ignite a deep emotional connection with someone outside your marriage. In fact, according to the Fortino Group, one-third of divorce litigation is caused by on-line affairs.

The problem is that emotional and physical affairs are damaging. They betray trust and break the covenant of marriage. The fall out for families is devastating.

Here are signs of on-line infidelity:

  • A demand for more privacy with the computer
  • Time alone in secret—maybe while you sleep, are busy with kids
  • Staying late or going in early to the office (to use the computer)
  • Clicking and closing screens when you enter the room
  • New accounts on email, websites, etc.
  • Password hidden and protected accounts
  • Deleted files, deleted cache
  • Increased time on the computer
  • Less time together as a couple
  • Loss of sexual interest

On-line infidelity must be documented and confronted with a course of action like marital therapy to be determined. A willingness to admit to the problem and do something about it is critical to couple work.

Dr. Linda Mintle’s book, I Married You, Not Your Family, focuses on strengthening marriage and preventing divorce. Check out the chapter on what to do when there has been an affair. For more information, go to www.drlindahelps.com

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