In the not so distant past, it was whispering couples hiding in dark smoky bars, lipstick stained collars and clandestine motel room romps that made up the concrete realities of relationship infidelity. But in today’s world of online confidential chat, private web browsing, instant messaging and endless porn, not to mention mobile ‘apps’ that locate available sex partners as readily as a decent Italian restaurant, simply defining what makes someone a cheater has have become a lot harder to pin down.
Not to mention the fact that the act of cheating today is a lot easier to deny than in the past. The husband or mate today who is spending more time and energy intimately communing with strangers at the other end of a web cam than attending to the needs of loved-ones or family, can accurately say when facing a hurt and unhappy spouse, “How could you say I’m cheating when I’ve never even met her (or him)? Besides they’re thousands of miles away so stop giving me a hard time!”
The anxious or angry feelings of a partner who just discovered that her spouse is spending 2-3 hours daily looking at porn can easily be pushed aside with statements like, “Well it’s just a guy thing” or “My dad looked at magazines and I look online, what’s the difference? That’s just what guys do.”
With the advent of electronic intimacy and even virtual sex (yes folks it’s already here), is it time to sit down and redefine plain old-fashioned cheating? What exactly does it mean to be unfaithful to a spouse today? Is physical contact required in order to call something a ‘real’ affair? Does multiple hours of viewing online porn have the same affect on intimate relationships as time spent with the magazines and videos of the recent past or are fearful spouses simply overreacting to what amounts to nothing more than a overheated mixture of pixels and fantasy?
As an author of several books about online problem sexual behavior and having worked with hundreds of betrayed spouses and their ultimately remorseful mates, the ultimate question of what defines infidelity in the age of the Internet remains as clear to me today as it did when Monica Lewinsky first stored away that stained little blue dress. Infidelity can be defined simply as the breaking of trust and the keeping of secrets in an intimate partnership. It’s not the cheating itself or any specific sexual act that causes the deepest pain to betrayed spouse, it’s the lying.
The most agonizing part for those who are being cheated upon is the betrayal of their trust in their mate. While some couples may choose to negotiate an open relationship or integrate Internet porn into their lives, it is the man or woman living a hidden sexual life who will cause the most harm to their loved ones. As we lightly suggest to many clients who are new to sexual addiction treatment (but it does make our point), “If you are married or in a committed relationship, feel free to chat online with prostitutes, complain about your marriage with attractive strangers met on Facebook or hook-up with people from Craigslist. Just make sure to run it by your wife/spouse first. If it’s ok with them – it’s ok with us.”