The New Infidelity: Is THIS Cheating?

The “new” infidelity is the cyber-tryst, those furtive online couplings that go on only in e-mail, Instant Messenger, or steamy chat rooms. All of which leads to this question: If you have a cyber-affair--and never meet in person—is it really cheating?

While about 30 percent of cyber-affairs escalate from e-mail to telephone calls to personal contact, the majority of romantic cyber-liaisons never lead to a physical relationship, which has caused some to dub them the “safe infidelity.” But such encounters are still betrayals of a relationship and can seriously damage, if not destroy, the marriages of those involved, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

“It is a huge, huge issue,” David Greenfield, author of “Virtual Addiction,” told CSM reporter Marilyn Gardner. He adds, the Internet “has changed the whole landscape of human sexual behavior. You’ve got this box on your desk that is accessible all the time with little or no effort. That just makes it too easy for a lot of people to communicate.” Instead of having to make up excuses about late meetings at work, cheaters can just sneak off to the computer when their unsuspecting spouse is sound asleep.

And it’s not all innocent. When those unsuspecting spouses wake up in the middle of the night and catch their one true love in the act or happen upon incriminating e-mail, it can tear apart the marriage just like any affair. Lawyers attest to the increase in divorces and separations that have resulted from online affairs. “Some clients arrive at our office with hard drives they’ve yanked from their husband’s computer, with downloaded e-mails, and with digital photos of their spouse’s paramour,” Mark Guralnick, a divorce lawyer in Marlton, N.J., told CSM.

All of which raises a new question: What is it exactly that constitutes infidelity? Can an online relationship where there is no physical contact fit the traditional definition of cheating? The experts advise couples to realize that this is a different type of infidelity and to use marriage counseling to try to save the relationship. “Let’s not overreact. Something has gone wrong. Let’s address that,” Maheu told CSM. “But let’s not act as though this is a full-on, in-the-flesh affair.”

Warning signs of a cyber-affair:

Spending an excessive amount of time on the computer.

Using multiple e-mail addresses.

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