Cyber-infidelity definitely seems to be ‘a thing’ now. For some, an abundance of social media ‘meeting’ places may sound the death knell of real and authentic human interaction but for others, social platforms provide an all-too tempting opportunity to engage in illicit online relationships. These relationships when played out in the ‘real’ world would be considered highly inappropriate and a betrayal of their spouses and partners.
There is often the perception that ‘virtual’ affairs are somehow less serious and less harmful than the real thing. As if there is some sort of league table of misdemeanours, where a spot of Facebook philandering is placed somewhere in between say, workplace flirting and all-out sexting but much lower down than an outright sexual encounter.
In the counselling room however, I have found that the extent and exact nature of the indiscretion can become largely irrelevant. As with most situations where there is a breakdown in trust in intimate relationships, it is often the degree of the intent of the participating partner combined with the magnitude of impact on the other partner that becomes the real measure of the problem.
Affairs of any kind can happen for many reasons but more often than not their purpose is to solve a problem – conscious or otherwise – in the primary relationship. A major reason driving many affairs is the incapacity of one, or both, partners to express their emotional needs within their relationship. In other words, they feel they are unable to take a relational risk. Rather than deal with the fear of emotional risk-taking, partners may seek to have their needs quickly met in a less high-stakes environment. Social media such as Facebook can provide this relatively ‘threat-free’ zone.
Understanding the purpose or intent of an affair, whether conducted in real life or in online life, is often a good place to start in the difficult task of trying to mend relationships broken by betrayal but only after the impact on the other partner has been identified and fully recognised.