Is It Chatting or Cheating? When does talking to someone online cross the what’s-acceptable-to-your relationship line? Read on to find out. BY DR. TRINA READ
It may seem like innocent chatting online, but if you can't tell your spouse it's probably gone too far.
“ If you can’t tell your husband or wife what you’re doing—even if it’s completely innocent and nothing will ever happen—then you shouldn’t be doing it. Period.”
In the 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks’ and Meg Ryan’s characters meet online in a chat room, they then start an innocent daily chat. Soon they are a lot more involved, leave their partner and end up, in rom-com style getting together. Happily ever after.
New Definition Of 'Cheating'
Twenty-five years ago, cheating was a black and white issue: you went behind your spouse’s back and had an affair. Today cheating can look like a lot of things: emotional, via Skype, and sexting just to name a few. Because there are so many sub-categories to what can constitute cheating, it’s important for couples to discuss their relationship boundaries.
As internet and mobile use increases, the structure and process of marriages will only change with it. Some experts suggest social media websites and the internet can both help and harm marriages. The key is establishing boundaries of what's appropriate, or what's inappropriate online.
I’ve had a few ex’s contact me. Sometimes I think, "Whew, glad I dodged that bullet" and it helped me to re-appreciate my husband. (BTW—This is a really nice way to be reminded why I married my husband and why’s he’s such a good mate.) Sometimes I’m happy to see how my ex has moved on with his life. It’s all been very innocent and truth be known, although I’m not hiding any it from my husband, it’s nice to have a tiny piece of me before marriage and kids.
But I can see that something like this could easily cross the line, especially if the marriage is unhappy or if the couple hasn’t discussed what their boundaries are.
So how common is online cheating? According to one study on infidelity out of 506 men and 412 women residing in North America, approximately 20% of the sample had cheated. Results showed there were roughly equal numbers of cheating—23% of men, 19% of women. Interestingly the cheaters had a higher number of lifetime one night stands compared to the non-cheaters.
Steps To Creating Boundaries 1. Innocent flirting. Of all the issues I deal with, flirting is one of the most contentious. Innocent flirting to me is like window-shopping for those in a committed relationship. It is the catalyst to set a spark on fire. It successfully takes a healthy relationship over the long term. Couples need to flirt with each other, flirt with other people and allow other people to flirt with them. Having a pro-flirting attitude creates great happy-couple energy.
2. Resolve the ambiguity of what constitutes an affair and what doesn't. Infidelity varies by couple and depends on whether the partner of a wandering lover feels betrayed, even if the perpetrator thinks flirtatious actions fall short of cheating. Plus, social media and the internet allow us to be someone that we feel we can't be in our offline life.
3. Adapt. Couples need to adapt because technology is not going away, it's only going to get more sophisticated. If you feel uncomfortable about a new method of communication to the world, talk about it.
4. Don't ignore behavior that bothers you. Your partner may not realize they're behaving inappropriately outside of the marriage. They don't recognize they're growing closer to someone on the internet because it just looks like a conversation to them.
Bottom Line: Trust is a big part of successful marriages and we need to trust that our spouse understands what is acceptable (and not acceptable) when it comes to their online behavior. You need to talk with your spouse about what is acceptable in your marriage. If you can’t tell your husband or wife what you’re doing—even if it’s completely innocent and nothing will ever happen—then you shouldn’t be doing it. Period.
Dr. Trina Read has a doctorate in human sexuality. Dr. Read is also an international speaker and offers free sex and lots of other information and resources on her website www.trinaread.com. To order her book, "Til Sex Do Us Part," click here.