Man on computer with woman staring over shoulder. Protect Your Relationship From online infidelity.

Protect Your Relationship From Online Infidelity

Online Infidelity Destroys Relationships

If I have learned one thing in my many years as a couples counselor, it’s that the pain and destruction caused by an affair are never, ever worth it. Furthermore, while couples can, and do, successfully repair trust after an online affair, it is a long and difficult process. 

I have also learned that very few people intentionally set out to have an affair that destroys their family, and blows up their life. Most affairs start when someone starts to get a little crush on an attractive stranger and then fails to put on the brakes. Before they know it, they’ve unleashed a half-pleasurable, half-nightmarish situation that is impossible to escape unscathed.

The “co-ed work trip” used to be the most vulnerable situation for a new dalliance to spark. But in recent years — as with so many other aspects of life — the opportunity to get involved in an emotional entanglement has gone digital and is as close as your pocket or your desk.

How Online Infidelity Starts

I had an interesting experience recently that gave me fresh insight into online affairs and how shockingly easy they are to get entangled in.

I have the usual dozens of “Do you know this person?” thumbnails of elementary schoolmates, acquaintances, and friends of friends inviting me to connect with them.

Out of curiosity, I scrolled through, only to see the smiling face of a fellow who I had the most massive crush on in junior high school. He still looked great. I thought about how very easy it would be to casually “friend him,” and engage with him as an adult. I thought about what it would be like to catch up with him, tell him what I was up to these days, and see if he’s still living in Roanoke…

john-stamos-mullet-affair-highschool-crush

Slight approximation of the guy I’m talking about

But then, thankfully, something snapped me right out of my high school reverie about my John Stamos look-alike crush, and back into reality.  I am not thirteen. I am an extremely-married mom, with a loving husband who would probably not appreciate me corresponding regularly with men who I once had crushes on (or John Stamos, for that matter).

While I was sitting in my post-fantasy funk, feeling a little guilty and a lot silly, I realized that I was just a click away from potentially changing the course of my life and my marriage.

The experience made me reflect on the many, many couples I’ve worked with in sexual and emotional affair recovery.

Some had fallen into emotional affairs with people from their past who were now plastered all over their Instagram feed. Some couples were suffering because one partner was having an online flirtation, causing the other terrible anxiety in the process. And more than a few were couples healing their relationships from sexual affairs that began through social media.

My own experience showed me just how terribly easy, and innocent these things must be at the beginning. A casual “hello” that no one else knows about… a nice profile photo, combined with tidbits of carefully curated information about how wonderful your life is now and the fantasy begins in full force.

The Online Affair: Facebook, Old Flames, and Seductive Fantasy

Facebook and Instagram make it incredibly easy to build a relationship with a persona as opposed to a person. A persona is built up of all the things we want people to think we are. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. We all share the highlight reel of our lives on social media. 

Where the problem comes in is when you start mistaking the persona for a person. Personas have no flaws. They’re always dressed up fine, have beautiful vacations, always have something witty to say, and have picture-perfect dinners every night. 

What you don’t see is them lounging in stained sweatpants, the crankiness of being at the airport to get to that perfect vacation, the dozens of deleted drafts of that perfect comment, and the messy kitchen that resulted from the perfect meal. 

All Facebook and social media profiles are fantasy-based. The danger lies in forgetting this fact and comparing our loving if imperfect partners to the fantasy of our online crushes.

Facebook Proof Your Relationship

But I think the most insidious thing about Facebook is how available people are. It is extremely easy to make contact with another person, and how secret those contacts can be. You close your laptop or turn off your iPhone, and no one is the wiser that you just spent several minutes bantering with an old flame.

If your current relationship is in a dissatisfying or boring place, as absolutely all long-term relationships are periodically, you’re even more vulnerable to connecting with someone who seems more interesting or gratifying to communicate with than your partner currently does.

And right then, maybe without even knowing it, you have all the ingredients to cook yourself up a steaming hot plate of a Facebook affair.

Affairs and online infidelity always start innocently, and they are fueled by fantasy, secrecy, availability, and dissatisfaction

What you must never forget is that there is much, much more to the story than what you see when you’re viewing someone else’s life through the window of your smartphone.

xo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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14 Comments

  1. This article was so insightful. It listed all of the problems my husband and I deal with. It is harder to face when the one having an emotional facebook affair doesn’t think they are.

    1. Hi April, I’m glad to hear that this article was helpful for you. It sounds like it validated your experience and I’m so glad for that. Yes, these issues are especially hard to face when the person engaging in the behaviors does not see them as problematic, or minimizes the harm they are causing to the relationship. I hope that your partner is open to looking at this article, and that it might help him gain some perspective into his behaviors and how they are impacting you. If this situation persists, I hope that you seek out supportive couples therapy. Sometimes it requires the feedback of an expert marriage counselor to open people’s eyes to how problematic certain behaviors can be. Good luck to you as you work to improve your relationship, and grow back together again. Sincerely, Lisa Marie Bobby

  2. My wife did exactly this on facebook and it became a full on 3 month cyber sex affair with an old boyfriend she never got over. They ended it because they were both married, not because they didnt want to do it anymore. It means the emotional connection has not gone between them.

    Now I can never escape it – I can never be free of the instant opportunity for her to reignite it via any social app, no matter how far away we move. It will never go away. I dont know if I can ever trust her again. I think this may be the end.

    1. Oh no, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re going through this. Infidelity of any kind is a knife in the heart, and the circumstances of this situation can make it even harder. It is also true that couples can and do heal from infidelity, but it takes hard work and support. I hope that you check out this podcast for some direction: How to Heal After Infidelity. It would be great if your partner would be open to listening to it also. While the podcast alone isn’t going to “fix” this, my hope is that it provides both of you with a roadmap to healing. I sincerely wish you all the best in your journey of growth (hopefully) back together again. LMB

  3. Hi! I have been reading articles all day because I do not know what to do.. My boyfriend and I have been together for almost a year now.. we were friends for years and I had a huge crush on him the entire time. I know that there is dissatisfaction and a lack of desire for him to communicate with me which is what hurts the most. I feel like he could and would leave me at any time. He has had this cyber facebook relationship for decades and he calls her his darlin and talks about wanting to love life together with her that he has wanted it his entire life. He messages an ex girlfriend saying she was the best girlfriend ever and wishes he didn’t mess things up with her. He has said something similar to many of his exes. He says he loves me but his messenger says otherwise. I want to walk away but feel like he would make it really hard. He doesn’t want me to dump him (Ive tried) but then he is doing these things secretively and thinks its okay because he isn’t physically with them he is with me. But I am NOT okay with any of it. I tried to talk to him but he gets defensive. What do I do

    1. Hi Kristina,

      Sounds like you’re in a pretty toxic situation here. Resources for you:

      “Are you addicted to a toxic relationship?”
      “How to leave a toxic relationship, with dignity”
      “When to call it quits in a relationship.”

      I hope that these resources (plus, honestly, some high quality online therapy or life coaching) can help you get clear about how you feel, what you want and deserve, and the fact that this relationship might not be good enough for you.

      Wishing you all the best,
      Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  4. This article was so insightful. It listed all of the problems my husband and I deal with. It is harder to face when the one having an emotional facebook affair doesn’t think they are.

  5. Hi April, I’m glad to hear that this article was helpful for you. It sounds like it validated your experience and I’m so glad for that. Yes, these issues are especially hard to face when the person engaging in the behaviors does not see them as problematic, or minimizes the harm they are causing to the relationship. I hope that your partner is open to looking at this article, and that it might help him gain some perspective into his behaviors and how they are impacting you. If this situation persists, I hope that you seek out supportive couples therapy. Sometimes it requires the feedback of an expert marriage counselor to open people’s eyes to how problematic certain behaviors can be. Good luck to you as you work to improve your relationship, and grow back together again. Sincerely, Lisa Marie Bobby

  6. My wife did exactly this on facebook and it became a full on 3 month cyber sex affair with an old boyfriend she never got over. They ended it because they were both married, not because they didnt want to do it anymore. It means the emotional connection has not gone between them.

    Now I can never escape it – I can never be free of the instant opportunity for her to reignite it via any social app, no matter how far away we move. It will never go away. I dont know if I can ever trust her again. I think this may be the end.

  7. Oh no, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re going through this. Infidelity of any kind is a knife in the heart, and the circumstances of this situation can make it even harder. It is also true that couples can and do heal from infidelity, but it takes hard work and support. I hope that you check out this podcast for some direction: How to Heal After Infidelity. It would be great if your partner would be open to listening to it also. While the podcast alone isn’t going to “fix” this, my hope is that it provides both of you with a roadmap to healing. I sincerely wish you all the best in your journey of growth (hopefully) back together again. LMB

  8. Hi! I have been reading articles all day because I do not know what to do.. My boyfriend and I have been together for almost a year now.. we were friends for years and I had a huge crush on him the entire time. I know that there is dissatisfaction and a lack of desire for him to communicate with me which is what hurts the most. I feel like he could and would leave me at any time. He has had this cyber facebook relationship for decades and he calls her his darlin and talks about wanting to love life together with her that he has wanted it his entire life. He messages an ex girlfriend saying she was the best girlfriend ever and wishes he didn’t mess things up with her. He has said something similar to many of his exes. He says he loves me but his messenger says otherwise. I want to walk away but feel like he would make it really hard. He doesn’t want me to dump him (Ive tried) but then he is doing these things secretively and thinks its okay because he isn’t physically with them he is with me. But I am NOT okay with any of it. I tried to talk to him but he gets defensive. What do I do

  9. Hi Kristina,

    Sounds like you’re in a pretty toxic situation here. Resources for you:

    “Are you addicted to a toxic relationship?”
    “How to leave a toxic relationship, with dignity”
    “When to call it quits in a relationship.”

    I hope that these resources (plus, honestly, some high quality online therapy or life coaching) can help you get clear about how you feel, what you want and deserve, and the fact that this relationship might not be good enough for you.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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