A new study explores the impact of Internet infidelity among couples. The findings reveal strong gender differences in how online cheating is perceived with women more strongly associating Internet activities with infidelity and finding these activities far more distressing.
The study, conducted by researchers from the Open University in the U.K., was based on an anonymous online survey of 20 to 73-year-olds who had direct experience with Internet infidelity, either having engaged in it themselves or having found out that their partner had done so.
The aim of the research was to improve understanding and awareness for both the public and marriage counselors at a time when there are growing opportunities to participate in activity online which could lead to infidelity.
The findings confirmed that many participants think that the Internet makes infidelity more likely. For example, the Internet makes covert contact with another person easy and has a disinhibiting effect, making it easier to engage in behavior that might be avoided in real life.
“I have a deep mistrust in the Internet, and feel it massively facilitates infidelity,” said one participant whose husband at the time had had an online affair. “My ex-husband is inherently a very shy man, but online he is able to act much more confidently and attract the attention of other women. I strongly believe he would not have had so many affairs without the Internet.”
The findings also showed that online cheating can be extremely addicting.
“I tried to stop but neither of us could, it would start again and since so easy, with all the technology we carry around it was an amazingly comforting and sexy thing to have,” said another participant. “With long working hours an online relationship is like fast food, ready when we are, naughty, cheap, very often eaten alone without the exhaustion of social niceties.”
Another participant wrote, “Probably — if we hadn’t have established & maintained any sort of contact online — the affair would not have started — as we very rarely bumped into each other.”
The findings also revealed that the effects of Internet infidelity can be as traumatic and wounding as face-to-face adultery, with many participants detailing their ongoing distress and describing the online infidelity as a relationship-ending event.
“What our research has revealed is that men and women do see Internet infidelity differently. But it is not just a gender divide — what is experienced as infidelity online can vary from person to person. What might be seen as casual chatting by one partner, is hurtful and disloyal to the other for instance,” said researcher Dr. Andreas Vossler.
“With the Internet and social media now being part of everyday life in the Western world, there are growing opportunities for partners to engage in online behaviors and activities that may be considered unfaithful in the context of a committed relationship (including e.g. cybersex, exchanging sexual self-images, online flirting, and dating).”
“This matters because infidelity commonly causes significant relationship distress and can have a negative and deteriorating effect on marriages and families,” said Vossler.
The evidence shows that couples in a committed relationship may, in order to prevent future misunderstandings, now have to think about expressing their attitudes towards social media and keeping it a topic for ongoing discussion — just as a couple might negotiate an agreement on the desire for children or marriage, noted researcher Dr. Naomi Moller.
Source: Open University