Emotional and Sexual Intimacy Online ... Do you know what's on your partner's computer?

A recent study from the UK suggests that couples are secretly checking their partners Internet devices (i.e., Smart Phones) to see if they might be cheating. This suggests that there is some uneasiness among couples as to whether their partners are immune to the temptations of the Internet. In therapy, we are seeing more and more Internet-related complaints that include spending too much time online and too little time engaging with the family, viewing online pornography or visiting adult chat rooms and engaging in online emotional or sexual intimacy with someone other than your partner. 

And in some cases, there may be good cause for concern. Partners, who would never have considered an extramarital affair, are finding that using the Internet to temper boredom and loneliness can be a very slippery slope. These kinds of unintentional distractions can create relationship issues that include developing low self-esteem, feelings of abandonment, and loss of trust for loved ones. 

What makes Internet infidelity so different from traditional infidelity? For one thing, the ease of access, anonymity, and affordability facilitates an extremely desirable environment for making online connections. Second, individuals who may crave online attention have the misconception that it’s relatively safe to engage online. Others believe the argument that if it doesn’t happen in real time it’s not cheating. 

Most married couples believe that being married or in a committed relationship means sexual and emotional exclusivity. Whether the context for infidelity occurs in cyberspace or face-to-face, studies suggest that those who have experienced the affects of a partner’s online infidelity suffer through the same intense feelings as the discovery of traditional, face-to-face infidelity. 

It’s important for every couple to openly discuss what is appropriate and what is not appropriate online behavior before it becomes an issue. Is it acceptable to check each other’s phone or laptop? Do you each believe it’s acceptable to have opposite- sex friends on Facebook? Are you comfortable with the amount of time your partner spends checking emails, surfing the net, or playing games online. 

A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you are engaging in behaviors that you don’t want your partner to know about, you probably should be thinking twice about what you are doing. And if you are spending more time engaging with your computer or Smartphone than with your partner, this could also a sign that your relationship needs some fine-tuning. Now is the time to address these issues. It’s best not to wait until it’s too late. 

Laura Richter is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who practices in the Boca Raton/Palm Beach County area. Her specialties include: marriage and couples therapy, beginning again after divorce, and co-parenting after divorce. Please call or text us today at 561 715-6404 to schedule a 30-minute complimentary consultation to see how we can help.

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