Consequences of the Digital Age?  How Emotional Affairs Harm Your Marriage

Can your partner cheat on you while sitting beside you on the couch?

This may sound like click-bait, but it has become a genuine relationship concern.  Left to our own devices (literally), we humans get ourselves entangled in situations unique to this era.

Has your marriage faced the strange new consequences of the digital age?

What is Cheating to You?

Couples have always set their own boundaries as to what constitutes infidelity.  One set of spouses might play it more traditionally, e.g. zero flirtation or temptation.  Others view certain actions as acceptable but draw a firm line elsewhere. More recently, some new factors have seriously blurred the lines. These include:

  • Sexting
  • Social media
  • Chat rooms
  • Internet pornography
  • Webcams
  • Dating apps

Which brings us back to the couch scenario above.  With phone in hand, a person can sit right next to their partner while digitally flirting with a stranger somewhere across the globe.  This is often how emotional affairs commence.

Emotional Affairs

We often have very close platonic friendships — no secrets, steady contact, genuine love.  Individuals need such bonds outside of their relationships.  An emotional affair is different.  It involves a clear undercurrent of attraction and/or lust.  Unlike a platonic friendship, there is a sexually charged connection that encroaches upon a couple’s intimacy. There doesn’t have to be sexual contact.  In fact, you may never actually meet the emotional affair partner.  But your interactions are both deceptive and detrimental to your relationship.

Emotional affairs existed long before the Internet barged its way into our every waking moment.  Thanks to our ever-present smartphone, they have become more accessible and common than ever. This makes it urgent to discuss this reality well before anything has the potential to happen.

Setting Parameters

Don’t Leave Anything to Chance

Some couples don’t bring up topics like this because they believe it can never happen to them.  In other cases, they may be afraid to appear guilty by broaching the topic.  Do not leave anything to chance.  Trust in your bond, and start the conversation before it can become a confrontation.

Commit to Communication

Communication is a stalwart foundation of any relationship.  Keep the lines open.  Perhaps you may even wish to schedule regular discussions about any topic that arises.  This makes things run more smoothly if talking about possible emotional affairs becomes necessary.

Make Space to Reevaluate

Yes, you must set boundaries, but life is fluid.  Some connections are far more nuanced than any single rule can govern.  Keep space in your heart to stay open to any such discussion.

Commit to Transparency

We all need private time, but when you opt to be part of a committed relationship, you have an obligation to compromise.  If your spouse asks questions about your phone time, handle those questions with honesty and patience.  If you feel a little “off” about the way your partner interacts with a particular someone on social media, get comfortable with bringing it up as soon as possible.

Recovering From Betrayal

If one of you takes a digital connection too far, recovery is possible.  It begins with the cheating partner showing remorse for their actions, sincerely apologizing, and taking palpable steps to change.  The betrayed partner has every right to set the healing timetable.  Seeking out counsel is a wise option (see below).

Getting an Outside Opinion

As mentioned, emotional affairs played out in a digital realm are a new concern.  It’s not realistic to assume we can find the perspectives and solutions we need without some outside input.  Couples counseling is a way to entertain new insights and ideas in a non-judgmental setting.  An experienced therapist can offer valuable viewpoints and observations.

Take the first step…

If you are dealing with digital age issues in your relationship and are serious about resolving them, I would like to help.  Please contact me via phone or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and efficiently as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Linda K. Laffey, MFT

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