Have you ever been suspicious of your boyfriend because he was suddenly spending more time on his phone or computer and also being protective of the devices? You may have found yourself paranoid that your girlfriend is talking to another guy when she looks at a phone notification and laughs. You ask who texted her, and her response is, “Nobody important.” Should you be worried? Maybe.
With social media and texting, the definition of “cheating” and “affair” get murky. Before these devices, cheating was simply when your boyfriend or girlfriend got sexually intimate with another person while the two of you were in a committed relationship. That is a typical physical affair. Today, emotional affairs are becoming more common. According to Wikipedia, an emotional affair is “an affair between two people that mimics the closeness and emotional intimacy of an affair while never being physically consummated. An emotional affair is often colloquially referred to as an affair of the heart. An emotional affair may emerge from a friendship outside the relationship, and progress toward greater levels of personal intimacy and attachment.”
Emotional affairs frequently start on social media platforms or through texting. The other person could be a co-worker that you initially start having a “poke war” with on Facebook, and you eventually start talking with the co-worker every day, while hiding it from your partner. You might reconnect with an ex on Facebook and start confiding in him or her regularly behind your partner’s back. Sometimes, emotional affairs remain just that, but other times, they eventually become physical.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Is it really that bad to emotionally cheat? After all, it’s not like I’m having sex with someone else.” Well, it turns out, it is as bad. According to a study, the emotions of people being cheated on online are the same, if not worse, than when being cheated on physically. This has been attributed to the fact people know they are vulnerable to the internet and what their partner does on it. Also, people are more likely devastated by the loss of trust and the feeling of betrayal, than by an actual physical act by their partners.
One study, published in the journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, found that excessive Facebook use can lead to infidelity. Psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Ramani Durvasula says that people turn to Facebook as an escape where inappropriate relationships develop and then people end up cheating on their partner with an ex, an old friend, or someone they met casually. She says that it often starts as “a little bit of liking, a little bit of flirting, and something that seems so harmless to start with escalates like wildfire.” Marriage counselor Terry Reid believes that Facebook can provide a sort of fantasy for a cheating spouse. It’s not just Facebook that has been connected with cheating. A study done by the University of Missouri found that excessive Twitter use has led people to cheat and has been the cause of breakups.
You may wonder how often Facebook and other social media platforms negatively affect relationships through affairs. Well, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 20 percent of all divorces involve Facebook, and 80 percent use Facebook or other forms of technology as forms of evidence.
I’ll tell you a story about someone I know that this happened to. I’ll say his name is John. So, John was in a relationship with Shelby for nearly four years and was living with her when she started acting suspiciously. Specifically, she was extremely protective of her cell phone. Whenever she thought he knew her passcode to get into her phone, she would immediately change it. Shelby was on her phone more often than usual, but would say she was texting her friend from back home. She also started wearing more makeup and doing her hair. John was suspicious of these behaviors, but had no proof she was cheating. One day, Shelby had abdominal pain, so John took her to the walk-in clinic. She had to have a CT scan done, but her phone couldn’t be in the exam room, so she gave it to John. Shelby didn’t know it, but John actually secretly knew her phone passcode at this point, and he decided to look at her Facebook Messenger. The last message was from a guy, with a name John didn’t recognize, and his Facebook profile had no pictures. He started scrolling up through the hundreds of messages exchanged between Shelby and the mystery guy. The messages included very sexually explicit exchanges. Long story short, this mystery guy was a classmate and had been Shelby’s friend for the past three years, and they recently started flirting through Facebook Messenger where the mystery guy used a fake name, which led to a physical affair.
Would Shelby not have cheated if it weren’t for technology? We can’t say for sure. However, it would have been very difficult for the affair to have developed if it weren’t for the discrete messaging between them, given the fact John and Shelby lived together.
Stories like this can happen to anyone, even celebrities. Actress Eva Longoria found hundreds of text messages to another woman on her husband’s phone. She also says that he cheated on her earlier in the marriage with a woman he connected with through Facebook.
A study done by Texas Tech University used information from the website FacebookCheating.com. The website is used for people to share stories about how they ruined a relationship because they connected with someone on Facebook and the relationship went too far, how they discovered their partner was cheating because of Facebook, as well as tips on how to discover if your partner is cheating. Through the website, researchers developed a model that moves through the different ways cheating is discovered, and how people cope with the discovery.
The model developed by researchers is made up of these five stages:
- Warning signs: The partner who is being cheated on has gut feelings and/or notices suspicious internet behavior by the other person, such as minimizing windows, habitually clearing out browser history, and adding passwords.
- Discovering infidelity: The individuals either take it upon themselves to investigate the warning signs or they accidentally discover the infidelity.
- Damage appraisal: The individuals determine whether or not the discovered acts were a violation of the relationship.
- Acting on appraisal: If the individual determines that the act or acts were a violation of the relationship, he or she either confronts or avoids the partner. Sometimes the individual decides that the evidence isn’t concrete enough to be able to approach his or her partner. Others retaliate, which typically includes posting messages online or sending a message to either the third party or the third party’s partner.
- Making a relationship decision: Some end the relationship because trust was violated, others monitor behaviors to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and some are still uncertain about what the next step should be.
If you have been cheated on through Facebook or texting, either emotionally or through an emotional affair that turned physical, you’ll find you’re not alone when you look at FacebookCheating.com. If you’re suspicious of your partner’s online activity, I’d also suggest you check out the site for some helpful tips.
On the other hand, if you’re wondering whether your own friendship through Facebook or texting with someone has gone too far, check out this Bustle article that has 9 signs that you may be emotionally cheating.
As a couple, you should sit down together and define what cheating means to both of you. Although you may not see having an “emotional affair” as a big deal, your partner may. A study has shown that men are more upset by sexual infidelity and women are more upset by emotional infidelity. Be respectful of what your partner considers cheating.
Psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Ramani Durvasula believes all couples that use Facebook need to ask themselves this one question: “If you saw your partner sending the email, text, or Facebook message you just sent, would you feel comfortable with that?”
Keep an eye out for my next post, which will be about sexting!