Dealing with Digital Infidelity

fingers crossedDoes meeting your partner online mean you are more susceptible to The New Infidelity — SMS flirting, IM encounters and email affairs?

What are the warning signs and how can you avoid becoming a virtual cuckold?

The Usual Suspects

It starts out innocently enough: a friendly SMS or perhaps a light-hearted group email message. Something about the content or the author captures your attention, and you respond to the message in kind.

Before long, your communication has left the realm of the necessary: the language has become more informal, the content has become more personal, sometimes flirtatious or even explicit, and the frequency of your communications has become intense, even obsessive.

Sound familiar?

These are all the hallmarks of technology-enabled infidelity, albeit in its early stages. And while the odd email, cheeky SMS or smile-inducing IM session are generally nothing to worry about, add a rocky relationship, a partner with a history of cheating or a simmering sexual addiction and your relationship may be headed for some unhappy times.

Send/Receive

For Phil, a seemingly innocent email flirtation with a work colleague ended his marriage.

“I was flirting very heavily with this girl at work, but there was honestly nothing to it sexually. I just liked her sense of humor, and it was great to have a friendly diversion in the office. Someone to play mind and word games with all day took some of the pressure off.”

Sounds innocent enough, but Phil had been guilty of infidelity in the past. He’d confessed to his then girlfriend (now ex-wife) and she’d forgiven him. And while Phil was well aware of the warning signs, he had convinced himself that this was a ‘safe’ and ‘harmless’ way to indulge himself in the thrill of an illicit affair without damaging his relationship with his partner. Or so he thought.

One sleepy morning, Phil typed out a flirtatious and, he now admits, somewhat salacious email message to his co-worker and hit send, making what he concedes now as the biggest mistake of his life.

“I could see as the message evaporated from my screen that I’d emailed it to my wife by mistake.”

As Phil discovered, an ill-addressed, inappropriate or condemning email message or SMS has little chance of being retrieved, unread, from the Inbox of an unintended recipient.

Why Do We Do It?

The fast-paced environment of SMS, IM and email causes us humans to veer into behavior that is sometimes inappropriate — and sometimes immoral. We become seduced by the instant gratification that comes from having exciting, rapid-fire dialogues with faceless partners. We hit send or reply long before our faculty of reason — and our conscience — has had a chance to process things.

Gratification is swift, and heralded by the beep of an SMS message received, or the ping of an incoming email alert. All very instant.  Very addictive. And potentially very dangerous to your relationship.

How Can I Stop?

Before you hit reply to that saucy SMS from a friend of a friend or that juicy email from the hot guy who works on the 2nd floor, stop and consider what you are really about to say. Review the contents of your message. Would you be happy to say these words out loud in front of others such as friends or workmates? How would it look if your partner happened across this message? How would you feel?

Your response to these questions should inform you of whether or not you have crossed the line and dipped your toe into the murky waters of infidelity.

If you find yourself becoming less interested in your partner, less patient, less passionate, and you also find yourself becoming more involved with a phantom partner, flirting via SMS, IM or email well into the night, there’s a good chance something is not right in your relationship.

You owe it to yourself and your partner to unearth what’s motivating you to act this way. Do you secretly hope to get caught? Do you love the thrill of the chase? Has your relationship with your partner bottomed out? Whatever the underlying issue, it needs to be addressed — before someone gets hurt.

SMS, IM and email are not the tools of the devil. In fact, many of us use them in our day-to-day lives without them having a serious impact on the health of our personal relationships. But for some, the lure of instant gratification, illicit communications, and a risk-free, non-physical affair can prove too tempting to resist.

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