What you need to know:
Digital affairs are serious problems for a marriage, although sometimes, they are also a symptom of underlying problems. Either way, you may quickly end up needing a divorce lawyer’s assistance if you do not put a fast halt to what is happening.
Previously, traditional notions of infidelity required an actual physical relationship between an unfaithful spouse and their romantic partner. Thanks to the internet and social media, however, couples are reassessing what it really means to be unfaithful.
Bryan Ssemanda, a relationship counsellor, says a number of relationships suffer due to digital infidelity.
“Most people think infidelity is physical so they will see no problem with flirting. However, infidelity is not just about having physical contact with another person. Cheating begins from the mind; you think about something and then act on it whichever way you choose,” he says.
Ssemanda says online infidelity is on the rise because many people flirt even with people they do not know and have never met.
“As one browses through another’s pictures on say, Facebook they may make a comment, “Wow, cute”. That could be followed by any comment depending on the respondent. In this case, an innocent comment could lead to a message in the inbox and the thread of emotionally charged messages continues. Sadly, people do not limit what they do while online,” he says.
The vice is also increasing because people are in search of happiness that has eluded them. Tracy Musiime, a counsellor, adds that at times, the person you are telling ‘beautiful body’ has never received such a comment from their spouse.
“So, they will hang on to the comment to get more emotional satisfaction. That is why instances of people who masturbate while looking at these pictures are common. In such cases, while their spouse does not see any physical relationship outside the marriage, their partner is no longer interested in them. While the other party hopes that the phase of not being interested in sexual intercourse will soon fade, unknown to them, there is an e-relationship going on,” she explains.
Ssemanda says the irony is that social media helps paint a glossy unreal picture about someone. “Social media gives pseudo happiness yet in real life, it is something else. The viewers then start admiring the life this person is posting about and relate with it. Before long, someone’s fake becomes another one’s pursuit,” he says.
In her research, ‘Fooling around on Facebook: The perception of infidelity behaviour in social networking sites’, Jaclyn Cravens Pickens says social media is a catalyst to infidelity by giving a false picture of people’s lives. The research also found that this behaviour is negatively impacting offline relationships as many never post about their struggles but the glossy side of life.
While many would love to know how to tell if their partner is involved in cyber infidelity, Ssemanda says one would rather not.
“If you keep looking for something wrong, you will eventually find it. I advise my clients to do what makes them happy and what makes the other party happy is none of their business,” he says.
He adds that by the time one spots infidelity, it has been going on for a long time. Therefore, he advises, couples to be more present and give their partners time.
“In some relationships, although partners will be in the same room, each will be on their phone for hours without anyone saying something to the other. Here, anything can happen. However, if you make it a point to let go of phones once you are home, then you will have time to talk about different things which will in the end bring you closer,” he advises.
It is also important to set rules that are beneficial to both parties. For instance, unless someone uses their phone for work purposes, then a couple can decide to keep their phones away once they get home from work.
Some partners have a habit of snooping in the other’s social media handles to monitor activity. However, Musiime says, one will see things they did not want to see and more often than not, it is about what they want to see rather than what was intended.
Ssemanda also advises couples to put their love life off social media because they might be good at certain things that will draw others to them.
“As a sex therapist, if I continually post pictures of my wife, some other men will think by the time a sex therapist chooses this woman, she must be special. With that, they will make it their aim to try their luck with her. If one post shows her with an unhappy face, they could take the chance to ‘move in’. Some may notice a flaw and manipulate it to your detriment. Keep your relationship away from such scrutiny,” he advises.
Experts say that just about any online relationship can develop into an emotional affair, but social media has a habit of reconnecting old friends, and that creates a lot of problems.
The shared memories of old friends, a mutual history and a sense of attraction, coupled with the departure from real life that happens when you are only engaging through a computer screen, can be deadly to a marriage.