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Excuses heard in the marriage therapist’s room–
“I didn’t intend my flattery to be taken as an invitation for sex.”
“She was the one to start talking dirty. I was just joking.”
“He sent me a sexy picture that blew my socks off.” Does this sound familiar?
The internet permeates all the corners of our lives. Many people assume that cybersex isn’t a threat to the marriage. When couples commit to each other, the contract doesn’t explicitly say, ‘No sexting and no courting on email.’ Have you ever heard of a marriage vow that says, “I promise to be a loving and faithful spouse in sorrow and in joy, in sickness and in health, with flirtatious and with chaste texts.
Promises get broken. Be assured that the relationship can heal after an affair.
How common is cybersex? Extra-marital affairs are closeted, thus no one is sure of the exact percentages: as many as 37% of married men and 20% of married women have been unfaithful. Even our presidents have affairs, leaving citizens to wonder about sex and moral turpitude. Digital affairs are not about polyamory—having multiple lovers. Polyamorous relationships, on- or off-line are consensual, so there is no betrayal.
How do couples confront Internet Infidelity? Infidelity is a crucible for the primary relationship. The hurt and the offending partner must accept that the relationship is broken by cyber intimacy. The unfaithfulness has nothing to do with physical touch. Janis Abrams Spring defines “cybersex is when two or more persons send each other sexually explicit messages via the computer. A cyber-affair can be emotional, sexual, or both.” (Abrahms Spring, 2012)
Society agrees that secret extra-marital affairs are hurtful. We are delusional if we see a cyber-affair as trivial. If we want to hide a text or an Instagram from our spouse, then we our lying to them. The offending partner is in denial. The affair hurts both parties, or more. Affairs involve fire. The secret of the online intimacy is like inhaling smoke from a forest fire, it suffocates the primary relationship. The offender is not innocent, nor is s/he like Teflon, able to return to the primary relationship unscathed. So both partners need to stare down the fire that escaped from the hearth. Both spouses are responsible for change.
Unlike reality where you can walk away from your paramour, it’s impossible to eliminate our use of computers and apps. Rebuilding trust is like rebuilding the fire with green wood. Counseling can reset the relationship, prioritize how to rebuild love, and offer next steps. In cybersex, like other unfaithful acts, the one who has been betrayed must move past the charred landscape. Find a way to move away from the dying fire into a greener landscape.
And the one who dallied and used the internet for arousal and love? Can the unfaithful partner own their guilt? Will they find help (Hey! maybe a couple’s counselor) to understand why they chose the hurtful action? Embers from the campfire can easily flare up into another cyber affair. Without understanding, the offender will repeat the betrayal.
The Hebrew sage says about intimacy outside of marriage, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? Proverb 6:29
The rockiest barrier to recovery from cheating is the loss of hope. I have been awed by couples who recover from the cybersex crisis. I credit them with verve and openness as they move from distrust to a new plateau of trust.