Social media allows us to connect instantaneously with as many people as possible. With the click of a mouse, you can arrange a girl’s night out with your best friends, creep through your elementary school bully’s wedding photos or check the relationship status of an ex. Recent celebrity
sexting scandals (looking at you, Blake Lively) prove that more and more people are using the convenience of social media to seek out inappropriate situations and fulfillment outside of their relationships. The results of these dalliances are often catastrophic and here’s why:

1. When interactions are electronic and instantaneous, your actions lose a sense of consequence.

Platforms such as Facebook organize all of your past and present social connections in one place – exes, that hot guy at your office, your high school crush – and encourage you to view details of their lives and connect with them in ways you might not consider if you were offline. Sending an instant message seems “harmless” because it’s so easy to do. If we were suddenly no longer able to send photo messages and the only option was to show off your chiseled abs or scandalous lingerie in person, or if we actually had to call up the people we’re tempted to flirt with and speak to them – it’s likely more people would think twice about their actions. Social media has eliminated the need for clandestine encounters and sleazy motel rooms.
Cheating can now happen from the comfort of a smart phone screen. Although there is no physical contact, technology has made it easier for people to emotionally cheat on their partners, which in the end can be just as destructive.

Take Carey*, for instance. She has experienced the fall-out from a partner’s emotional cheating first hand. When she noticed her husband of 4 years had been growing increasingly distant and receiving text messages at all hours of the day, she eventually decided to give in to her suspicions. One morning while her husband slept next to her and his smart phone vibrated with yet another incoming message, she checked his Blackberry and found a whole string of sexy text and Facebook messages to a woman he had met while on vacation. Carey says, “It was devastating. He was saying all of these things to someone he had met once, who lived thousands of miles of away, while here I was – a real person, married to him”

Signs of online cheating on the next page …

2. When you cheat emotionally through social media, you are in a sense creating an alternate sense of reality.

Instant messaging allows you to hide behind a screen, giving you the “e-courage” to say things you might not normally say if you were seated across from someone face to face. Receiving a perfectly crafted message, a photo or a song on can create a false sense of intimacy. When you are flirting online you don’t have to deal with awkward pauses, dirty socks and any of the other nitty-gritty things that come along with real life relationships. Instead, you can focus completely on the fantasy. Emotional cheating provides a temporary escape from reality with very detrimental real life results.

Sabine* maintained an on-again, off-again flirtatious relationship with an ex-boyfriend for several years via Facebook. They would swap steamy messages on a regular basis – a situation that started up again once Sabine started having problems with her current boyfriend. She explains that her online chats with her ex quickly got out of control. “I felt guilty for what I was doing but I couldn’t stop. I was addicted to the attention. Talking to my ex online was a distraction from having to actually deal with the problems in my relationship. Eventually I realized that the situation was completely toxic. I wasn’t present in my own relationship. I was sabotaging my real life by living out a relationship online that wasn’t real and probably should have ended a long time ago.”

If any of this sounds familiar, here are a few common signs of online emotional cheating:

1) Their laptop slams shut whenever you enter the room.

2) They get angry, upset or anxious if they see you touching their phone.

3) Computers and phones that used to not be password protected are now on lockdown.

4) Hours spent online or with their smart phone glued to their hand have replaced the time you would usually spend connecting as a couple.

5) Your partner picks a fight, seems distant towards you or acts unusually after spending extended periods of time online.

How to move forward once it’s happened:

The behaviors described above do not necessarily mean a death sentence for your relationship. Many couples with a bit of hard work are able to bounce back from emotional cheating. As Sabine explains, “My own behavior was a wake-up call for what was missing in my relationship – in my case, more romance, spontaneity and a better sex life.” Sabine eventually decided to delete her ex from her online life. She came clean to her partner and now they are working on their relationship,
offline. She says unplugging from her ex was the best thing she could have done, “We’ve had a lot of honest talks and our relationship is now in a much better place.”

*names have been changed

Read more:
Why men cheat — we found the answers
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