Recovering from Online Infidelity

woman sitting on couch while using laptop computer

Online infidelity is a cyber-affair through some digital communication method, whether text, email, social media or anything else. This cyber-affair could be solely emotional, or they may exchange sensual messages which can simulate a physical affair. For the cheating partner, it is a way of fulfilling some emotional, social or physical need outside of their own relationship, and it almost always results in emotional distress.

It can be difficult to weigh the seriousness of online infidelity against that of a physical affair. While the unfaithful partner was not physically intimate with anyone outside of the relationship, words were exchanged and trust was betrayed. On paper, it seems like a smaller problem that’s easier to get away from, but recovering from online infidelity is not actually as simple as turning your phone off.


The severity

According to Tracey Lickfelt, Director of Crisis and Access Services for Centerstone, online infidelity could, in fact, be potentially worse than a physical affair. “There is a certain lack of responsibility that the cheating partner can take for this type of affair. They most likely had no direct contact with the external party, so they don’t have a tangible way to understand the weight of it.”

During our COVID-19 era when we are all spending most of our time at home, the severity of cyber-affairs is further increased. Physical affairs are less attainable, making cyber-affairs practically the only option, and thus putting them at the very least on par with physical affairs. Having increased time at home has even increased the opportunity for online infidelity, some even engaging in it while sitting right next to their partners.


Confronting your partner about suspected infidelity

Emotions of shock, anger and grief are common reactions to learning of a partner’s infidelity. Before you approach them about what you believe they are doing, try to give yourself space to collect all your thoughts and feelings. Try to rehearse in your mind how you will approach the situation and what language you will use. Communicate your concerns and how you are feeling in an inquisitive manner, rather than accusatory.

When approaching your partner, it is important to also have some sort of proof of their actions. “Having proof is vital, no matter the result,” says Tracey Lickfelt. “When unverified claims prove false, it is taken as an accusation and hurts trust within the relationship. When claims without evidence prove true, they can be denied. The cheating partner can return with other accusations, and make the inquiring partner out to be overly suspicious or crazy.”


Recovering from online infidelity

Like with physical infidelity, as long as both parties want to work through this problem together, the relationship is never too far gone. There are things that both partners can do to restore the relationship, if that is the end goal.

For the unfaithful partner:

  • Take responsibility. You must tell yourself, no matter how mild you feel it is, that it is an affair. Own up to the fact that you betrayed your partner’s trust, and acknowledge and validate their feelings.
  • Understand that you must sacrifice some level of privacy. Give your partner 24/7 access to your phone, computer and all accounts you have on any digital platform. This will allow them to hold you accountable at all times, while also motivating you to make a change. Even if your starting motivation is simply to not get caught, it will get you out of the habit and help mend the relationship.
  • Be willing to give space. Give your partner the time they need to accept what happened and process their feelings. You can’t force them to forgive you or trust you immediately. Use that time to take action steps toward ending the cyber-affair to show your commitment to the relationship.

For the hurt partner:

  • Be honest. Tell your partner how their actions have made you feel. While they are the guilty party, try to avoid accusatory statements and stick to communicating your reactions and feelings.
  • Be open to forgiveness. If you have collaboratively established the end goal of restoring the relationship, be open to forgiving. As you need time to process the events, you don’t need to forgive immediately. But if you are going into these conversations with no intention of ever forgiving your partner, then you will find them to be unfruitful and a waste of energy for all.
  • Hear their side. Listen to your partner’s story of reaching the point of a cyber-affair. Assess if they have unmet needs or are feeling unfulfilled in some way. “Remember: the affair is not your fault, but hearing their perspective can help you understand steps they can take and how you can support them,” says Tracey Lickfelt.

While there are strategies specific to each member of the relationship, you will need to work together to mend things. Spend more quality time together, remember who you are to each other and listen to each other’s thoughts and feelings.

If you and your partner are working through any issues in your relationship, Centerstone is here to help. Call 1-877-HOPE123 (877-467-3123) or visit centerstoneconnect.org to get connected with care.


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