We live in a world where technology has drastically altered the way we exist–and continues to do so. It has touched our lives, careers, communication, transportation, medicine, and more. So, it only makes sense that technology would affect our love lives as well, right?
Even in just the past two decades, people’s attitudes about infidelity have changed. People today expect more from a spouse than they did fifty years ago. They expect their partner to be their best friend, therapist, support system, AND a fantastic lover. While it’s ok to expect these things, there may be conflict between spouses about which expectations are reasonable. This conflict may extend to whether or not emotional cheating is cause for concern–or even divorce.
Not everyone will agree on what counts as cheating and what doesn’t. Not everyone will agree whether emotional cheating is grounds for divorce. The concept of virtual infidelity highlights this issue.
Does kissing count or only sexual intercourse? What about flirting? What about flirting online? Watching porn? Emotional cheating?
Cheating can happen in a monogamous relationship, where romantic relationships occur between only two partners, and can also be present in open or polyamorous relationships. In these situations, cheating can look more like a lack of communication or breakage of boundaries rather than the physical act of being with someone else.
Physical cheating involves a physical connection with someone other than your partner (or, in the case of an open or polyamorous relationship: a physical connection with someone outside of the agreed-upon boundaries). Emotional cheating is a little harder to define.
Emotional cheating is an intimate connection with someone outside your relationship that weakens or undermines your primary romantic relationship. It occurs when one person in the relationship becomes emotionally attached to someone other than their spouse. This emotional connection can exist through prolonged communication, developing inside jokes, sharing fears, hopes, and dreams, and more.
Though emotional cheating is not physically sexual, it often has an erotic component. Regardless of any erotic component, it is considered by many to “count” as cheating.
Emotional cheating can happen in poly or open relationships as well! Ultimately it is a breach of trust and a violation of the boundaries that exist in your relationship. It is a connection that draws attention away from the relationship or primary partner in a way that disrupts trust.
One increasingly common form of cheating is virtual infidelity.
Just as there are multiple ways to build and break someone’s trust physically, there are different ways to virtually break trust in a relationship. Building and breaking trust looks different to everyone! But the internet certainly complicates things by creating opportunities to break trust and emotionally cheat.
What kinds of virtual infidelity exist? What do they look like? Here are some examples:
Virtual infidelity has become extremely common. The internet affords us a convenient place to be anonymous and seek escape. We can sit in the comfort of our own homes, be open and frank with less fear of judgment, and seek out exciting new connections. Though this may seem harmless at first glance, it can cause real detriment to a marriage.
Can virtual infidelity be the same as emotional cheating? Absolutely. The two are not necessarily separate.
Every relationship is different, so signs of cheating for some may be meaningless to another. With that in mind, here are some things to look for if you believe your spouse is having an online or emotional affair:
Emotional affairs can be devastating to marriages. Though certain risks come with physical affairs like unwanted pregnancies and STIs, a short lived-physical fling or a one-night-stand might carry less weight or be less painful than an ongoing relationship with another person that fosters emotional connection.
So what do you do when your partner is having an online or emotional affair?
I can’t tell you whether or not to end your marriage; ultimately, that is your decision. What I can tell you is that if your relationship is suffering from the fallout of an emotional affair or virtual infidelity, you are not alone!
Infidelity is hard to handle in relationships. There are tons of reasons why people cheat, and it can trigger old wounds, create new wounds, and have you reassessing your whole life. The most crucial first step is to take care of yourself. Think about your goals, needs, and desires. Re-evaluate your values. Then decide if your partner fits into your life moving forward!
Technically, in divorce law, physical contact of a sexual nature is required to claim adultery. With rapidly evolving technology, however, the lines of this definition are becoming blurred. So you CAN cite infidelity for an cyber affair, and you may be able to receive financial compensation. Especially if the cheating spouse spent money on gifts, paying for websites, buying webcams, etc.
You are your number one, so take care of yourself! Lean on your people, find a support group, start therapy, practice mindfulness techniques, or scream into the void. Whatever you need to do to get yourself feeling like yourself again, PLEASE do it! No judgment here.
On the other hand, if you want to rebuild your marriage (and your partner does, too!), the first place to start is with trust.
Trust can mean different things to everyone, so talk to your partner, and figure out what you need to feel safe, respected, and open to vulnerability. Here are some ways to do that:
This is all up to you. It is possible to rebuild trust after a betrayal, and it is also OK if you want to call it quits. You know your relationship better than anyone else, and you’re the best judge of whether emotional cheating is grounds for divorce. Take a deep breath, communicate with your partner, and forge your path forward. You got this!