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Surviving an Online Affair

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr, studioD

The infidelity crisis is fueled, in part, by the Internet, where people slide down a slippery slope of secrecy, deceit and emotional connection they never intend to consummate with a physical meeting, reports the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. You can get enmeshed in an online affair before you realize you’ve cross any line because you might never have physical intimacy with your online lover.

What Is Online Infidelity?

If you wonder whether you’re having an online affair, there are some telling signs, notes psychiatrist and author Dr. Gail Saltz. You make time to meet in secret, you tell your online lover things you never tell your partner, you hide the relationship from your partner and you say, type or do things you don’t want your partner to see. The Internet makes it easy to carry on an affair because of the anonymity of chat rooms and instant messaging -- and because many people involved in online affairs never intended to cheat, reports a December 2004 article in “Psychology Today.” Unfortunately, because much of the affair takes place in your mind, you may create a perfect lover whose shortcomings you don’t see because you never meet in real life or spend significant time together.

Are Online Affairs Harmful?

Cyber affairs can be harmful, writes Aaron Ben-Ze'ev, author of “Love Online: Emotions on the Internet.” You can become isolated from your partner and family, pulled in by the intensity of the online affair, and you can wound your partner enough to end the relationship. Cyber affairs also have advantages, including eliminating the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Many spouses consider online affairs cheating, reports a May 2013 poll conducted jointly by the Huffington Post and YouGov and a survey published in May 2013 in “Evolutionary Psychology.” Injured spouses complain about violated trust. Other activities they found objectionable included sending nude or sexy pictures and sexting, even when the offending partners never physically meet or have sex.

Offending Spouse Recovery

Sarì Harrar and Rita DeMaria,Ph.D., authors of “The 7 Stages of Marriage,” detail steps you can take to survive an online affair whether you are the offending or the injured partner. If you are the offending partner, stop the affair and sever all contact with the lover in any form, including email, texts, instant messaging, phone calls and in-person contact. Commit to an open and honest interaction with your partner about the affair, answering any and all questions the injured partner asks. Express empathy for your partner’s pain without trying to cast blame on your partner. Take responsibility for your actions and accept that it will take time and work to rebuild trust, if it is possible at all. Open lines of communication and keep them open for as long as it takes to work through the situation.

Injured Partner Recovery

If you are the injured partner, Harrar and DeMaria suggest that you must talk about the affair and ask enough questions to satisfy your need to know and express your feelings, while balancing your anger at your partner. They suggest you limit conversations about the affair to 30 minutes at once and take time to talk about things other than the affair to keep communication lines open. Don’t forgive too quickly; do so only when it feels right. You both should get support, including marital counseling, and give yourself time to grieve and deal with your emotions.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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