How's your cheater radar? You just know that your partner is not the type of person who would have an affair … or do you? It's not just your best friend's arrogant boyfriend who fits the bill. It's the 15,060,000 members (and growing) of Ashley Madison, the notorious website geared toward online connections between married people. Its motto? "Life is short. Have an affair."
So, why is it that people seek virtual romance outside their relationship? New York City-based psychotherapist and sex therapist Suzanne Iasenza, PhD, says, "Online affairs are not much different from the 'old-fashioned' kind except the Internet provides greater accessibility and sometimes feelings of less culpability."
It is almost impossible for any typical adult to get through even one day without being engaged with some form of technology that connects them to the Internet. The ability to connect with new people, current acquaintances and friends from the past via social media provides greater opportunities for connection. The accessibility, affordability and anonymity, combined with the ability to portray one's ideal self to another, makes online extramarital interaction a fast-growing area.
Iasenza says there are various factors in individuals and relationships that can contribute to an online affair, including unresolved issues from childhood or past relationships, self-esteem or other emotional issues or unspoken or unresolved relationship problems.
In an article in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, psychotherapist Joan D. Atwood, PhD, says an online affair can offer much-needed support and comfort. "This electronic bond can offer the fantasy of the excitement, romance and passion that may be missing in the current relationship. Instead of dealing with how to confront the issues of conflict in the marriage, the individuals use the cyber-relationship as an easy escape from the 'real' issues."
So, how can you tell if your partner is participating in an online affair?
Iasenza says there are some signs you can look for, including "emotional or sexual withdrawal, a critical or contemptuous attitude or the person being quick to anger." She also says one might notice that their partner opts for hours on the computer rather than having quality time together. This might include consistently not coming to bed and staying up late on the computer. Additionally, she says, he or she may be paying more attention to texts and e-mails than usual.
Or could you be the one heading in that direction? Iasenza says if your online contact is distracting you from the rest of life, especially from your romantic relationship, it could be a wake-up call.
If you're coping with online infidelity in your relationship, she says it's important to take stock of feelings and create a way, which may include therapy, to understand what the affair means to the individuals and about the relationship.