If there is one factor that has changed the face of infidelity in the last 15 years, it’s the Internet. Today it is possible for anybody to meet potential partners in secrecy, with the click of a mouse.
Many people think cheating isn’t really cheating if there is no sex or physical intimacy involved. But emotional infidelity can be just as bad as physical infidelity because both involve betrayal. Online affairs have many of the hallmarks of traditional affairs: secrecy, and lusting after someone outside the relationship. The betrayal can often feel worse because it takes place in your own home, often when a partner is in the next room.
Internet relationships often become intimate very quickly because inhibitions are lowered – people on the Net aren’t face to face with each other, so the visual cues that are normally such an important part of meeting someone new don’t apply.
In my practice I am getting more and more cases where online relationships are involved. Often the online relationship is used as a “test run” before starting a traditional affair.
It is also incredible how many cases I have dealt with where men have gone looking online for relationships when their partner is pregnant. Kelly’s case was typical:
Kelly and Todd had been trying to have a baby for years, and were thrilled when after their second cycle of IVF, Kelly fell pregnant. In her second trimester, she found out by accident that Todd had been very active on Internet chat rooms for the entire time she had been pregnant. Thirty-nine year old Todd had formed a particularly close online relationship with Sarah a twenty-year old student.
Todd spent hours on the net every day communicating with Sarah.
One morning, quite by chance, Kelly needed to use Todd’s home PC. She logged on and, without thinking opened a new email. It contained a very sexually explicit message from Sarah to her husband, inviting him to meet her. A search of the browser history revealed no other emails from anyone called “Sarah”.
When confronted, Todd angrily denied any knowledge of “Sarah”. He claimed someone must have sent him that email by mistake. But for Kelly something just didn’t add up: all those hours Todd spent on the computer late at night didn’t feel right, and she felt there was more to it.
The next time Todd went away on a business trip we had a computer forensic expert examine Todd’s home computer. The result? The specialist discovered hundreds of deleted sexual emails between Todd and Sarah on the computer hard drive – messages that revealed an online affair that had begun even before Kelly had fallen pregnant.
Kelly and Todd are still together, for now, but the trust between them has been destroyed. “Todd does a lot of work from home on the computer. Every time I see him, I can’t stop myself from thinking about it and wondering if he is doing it again.”
If you suspect your partner is having an online relationship, you might have noticed your partner:
- Constantly deletes the Web browser history (one of my clients only discovered this as she noticed her contacts kept disappearing from their home computer).
- Has become more withdrawn and irritable toward you, or suddenly becomes extra sweet and attentive.
- Spends increasing amounts of time on the computer, especially if he has suddenly taken to surfing the web at odd times of the night.
- Is obsessed with immediately answering texts, e-mails and social media messages.
Cheating doesn’t have to be physical to be cheating, infidelity can take many forms but it all comes down to a betrayal of trust. Of course, none of these things in themselves mean an online relationship, but if you are concerned, you have the right to ask for an explanation.
Ultimately the technology is not to blame; it’s the way it is abused by the individuals who use it.
* Names have been changed to protect privacy.
Julia Hartley Moore is a high profile, successful international private investigator with specialist expertise in uncovering infidelity.
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