Just because your partner is on lockdown with you or in quarantine with you, doesn’t mean they can’t cheat on you. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, and the last thing I want to do is get people reading this paranoid, but cyber cheating happens a lot and is severely damaging to even the strongest relationships.
Cyber cheating, also known as online infidelity or emotional cheating, is an extremely common form of infidelity. This is when your partner says they love you one minute, but the next minute they’re on their phone DMing some Instagram hottie, with flirtatious messages that insinuate they’re single, not taken.
Online infidelity is any type of ongoing flirtatious texting, sexting, social media messaging or emailing with someone other than your partner.
Cyber cheating can destroy relationships, even ones where love is deep, real, and strong. Unfortunately, cyber cheating will likely become even more common now that strict social distancing restrictions are in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People now have a lot more time on their hands, much more downtime to use social media, and will spend greater amounts of time online.
It doesn’t matter if the cheating is happening online or offline, or how many ‘justifications’ your partner has for their behavior. Cheating is cheating. There are much healthier, more mature, and less damaging ways to resolve conflict in a relationship, that don’t involve the irreparable damage of cheating.
Why is Cyber Cheating so Damaging?
Online cheating is truly hurtful, and can possibly cause the relationship to end. Even if you’re in love, for many of you it simply no longer feels like love with the absence of complete fidelity.
Andrew G. Marshall, marital therapist and author of Why Did I Cheat? was recently interviewed by Datingroo on the topic of cheating and cyber cheating, for their study entitled “Why Do People Cheat?” In the interview, Marshall confirms that exchanging messages on social media is still cheating, even if nothing happens offline. He explains that someone’s emotional affairs will hurt their partner just as much as actual affairs and both are equally damaging to the relationship. Marshall says, “Emotional affairs are affairs with people you might never meet in the flesh, and it is all conducted only on the internet”, and goes on to attest to the fact that emotional affairs are extremely destructive to romantic relationships.
Cyber cheating also distracts your partner from working on their relationship with you, which is the relationship they should be focusing on. In other words, it distracts your partner from the real relationship right in front of them, the one they’re risking for the cheap thrill of a few flirtatious DMS.
The act of cheating – in any form – demonstrates your partner’s lack of respect for you, and often reveals that they don’t love and care for you as much as you thought they did. It doesn’t matter whether or not anything happens in real life, because online cheating still involves deception, an abuse of trust, a hurtful betrayal, and an offensive level of disrespect.
If somebody says they love you, it’s completely reasonable to expect that they wouldn’t be tempted to engage in these destructive acts of cyber cheating. If you ask the person you love not to flirt with other people online, you’re not asking for too much. It’s not that hard for them to avoid the temptation, especially if they love you.
Many people who are caught cyber cheating attempt to claim that the flirtatious interaction “didn’t mean anything”, which only makes their partner even angrier. They’ll wonder, If it’s so meaningless, why is it worth damaging our relationship, or worth the risk of losing me? And they’ll ask their partner, If it means nothing, why was it worth hurting me so badly?
Everyone gets upset when someone’s words don’t line up with their actions. If they love me, why are they doing something they know will cause me such pain?
If your partner is guilty of cyber cheating, you’ll probably be irreparably hurt over this betrayal, and you’ll also feel immense sadness and self-loathing. You’ll wonder why you aren’t enough for them, and why they have to get attention or validation outside of the relationship. You’ll also wonder why you weren’t worth the effort of talking through any problems, and why instead of working it out, your partner acted out and cheated.
Here are some of my best tips for how to heal after being cheated on. Now, of course, if you find out your partner is cyber cheating, you will feel a lot of pain and anger. It’s natural to feel some extreme emotions. It’s also natural to want answers from your partner. Perhaps you’ll even find some of the answers in this article.
Social Media and Cyber Cheating
Social media enables modern infidelity. The temptation is everywhere on social media. It’s all-too-easy to send a flirtatious DM after pausing to gawk at someone’s sexy new Instagram post, for instance. The right partner won’t give in to temptation, though. Just because it’s easy and fun to do it, doesn’t mean everyone will do it.
I personally get my dopamine hits from my partner’s love and affection, and their attention is more than enough for me. I don’t need attention from anyone else. Other people, however, like to get dopamine hits from the attention of their attractive social media followers, as well as from their partner. That’s an unhealthy habit they have to fix before they’ll ever be capable of maintaining a loving and meaningful relationship.
Many people get caught up in all of the ‘choices’ and ‘other options’ they see online.
Love coach and trauma healer Kevin Crenshaw says, “In modern society, we often experience an illusion that we have unlimited ‘choices’ of potential partners. This leaves us perpetually wondering, What if there’s someone better? That’s why many people look at an attractive person’s highlight reel via their social media profile and compare that highlight reel with their current partner. The problem with this is that with their current partner, they see all of the imperfections and annoying qualities, but whoever they’re cyber cheating with is only showing the perfect highlight reel of themselves. The key is to remember this expression which holds a profound amount of truth: The grass isn’t greener on the other side. It’s greener where you take care of it.”
Why Do People Engage in Cyber Cheating?
What are some reasons why your partner might be cyber cheating? It often has to do with deeply rooted self-loathing, low self-worth, and deep-seated insecurities. Cyber cheating offers your partner external validation; an ego boost that they need to get themselves through the day.
You might wonder why you’re not enough, but some people – especially narcissists or those with deeply rooted self-esteem issues – have what I call a bottomless self-esteem bucket. This means that they need attention from lots of different people to fill their bucket, and it’ll still never feel full.
At the end of the day, however, even those with serious self-esteem and self-worth issues, still know that cheating is wrong. This doesn’t give them a free pass.
They also don’t get a free pass if they’re cheating because they’re unhappy in the relationship, their needs aren’t being met, or they’re resentful towards you.
Instead of cheating, your partner needs to learn how to communicate. If they’re unhappy with you, they should talk to you and work it out, even if they’re mad. Talk out the problem, instead of cheating because there’s a problem. Similarly, if your partner is insecure or in constant need of external validation, they should talk to you about this problem to see if you might be able to help them get their needs met.
Kevin Crenshaw agrees: “If someone is cyber cheating, it’s usually because they aren’t getting their needs met in the relationship. The right thing for them to do when their needs aren’t being met is to talk to you about what they need, instead of cyber cheating. A person should always communicate instead of being disloyal. Meeting their needs could be achieved after a simple discussion about their love language, for example. Perhaps you haven’t been speaking to them in their love language, and that’s why they didn’t feel their needs were being met.”
Some cheaters simply feel that it’s easier to step into the fantasy with that sexy new person they just followed on Instagram than actually working on their relationship issues with you.
Andrew G. Marshall confirms that “unresolved anger” towards their partner is a common cause for cheating. However, there are much healthier, less selfish, and less destructive ways to deal with anger other than cheating.
Signs Your Partner Might Be Cyber Cheating
Is your partner overprotective of his or her phone, or often angles their phone away from you when they’re using it next to you? Does your partner often take their phone into the bathroom with them for long periods of time? Does your partner spend an excessive amount of time on their phone, instead of paying attention to you? These could all be signs your partner is cheating.
Some cyber cheaters are very good at not getting caught. In other words, it might be harder to catch them. Andrew G. Marshall explains, “Nowadays many people have a secret phone to help them keep communication with another person.” And it’s not just a secret second phone that could help cyber cheaters get away with it. There are also secret Instagram accounts, texting apps that allow hidden texts to be sent and received, and much more.
However, other cyber cheaters are very bad at not getting caught. Catching them could be as simple as offering to take a photo of them on their phone, and once they pass you their phone, checking out their Instagram DMs or Facebook messages.
Are Men More Likely to Cheat than Women?
Both men and women cheat. However, according to Andrew G. Marshall, who is a marital therapist and sees a lot of real-life examples of infidelity, men are statistically more likely to cheat than women. There are many reasons for this, but a significant reason is their upbringing and their communication skills. “Men, in general, haven’t been given the tools to think deeper, to talk to people. They were trained to act rather than think, talk, and to feel.” He later explains that he’s not stating that all men are like this. However, he does see a lot of male clients who have this problem of acting out instead of talking it out.
Marshall has seen many male clients who don’t know how to talk about their feelings when they’re unhappy in a relationship or don’t want to. Instead, they’ll push their issues to the side and, as Marshall says, “self-medicate by having an affair.”
Is Your Cheating Partner Gaslighting You?
Cyber cheating and gaslighting often go hand-in-hand. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where your partner might make you question your own judgment or your own sanity, to avoid taking responsibility for their bad behavior.
An example of gaslighting when it comes to your partner’s online infidelity would be if you gave them an ultimatum to stop their online flirting, and their response was, “Wow, you’re so controlling.”
Joan E. Childs, a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker, and author, says, “Pointing the finger at you instead of taking responsibility for their behavior is a form of stonewalling, contempt and gaslighting.”
You’re not controlling since it’s a reasonable request when you want your partner to cease their inappropriate flirting with others. However, a gaslighter will try to turn it around on you, either by calling you controlling or explaining what you did wrong to drive them to cheat.
The reality is, cheating is wrong no matter what the ‘reason’ for it is. If someone wants to act single online, they should just be single.
Caught Your Partner Cyber Cheating? Sometimes it’s Best to Just Walk Away and Give Them Their Freedom
Rather than getting worked up and acting crazy when you catch your partner cyber cheating, sometimes it’s best to just give them their freedom. Let them see what it’s like to lose you and gain freedom. Walk away. Tell them they can flirt with as many people as they want because you’re done.
Once they’re suddenly allowed to flirt with whoever they want online, and it’s no longer a ‘forbidden’ activity, the entire concept of flirting online might lose its allure.
It’s completely reasonable to have certain expectations that your partner won’t flirt with other people if they truly love you and want a relationship with you. But sometimes, your expectations or your standards of how you deserve to be treated, seem like a threat to their ‘freedom’.
When you choose to walk away, you’re giving your partner the chance to see what their life is like without the ‘restrictions’ of a relationship, and see if being ‘free’ of your rules really is better than being ‘tied down’. You’ll see. They’ll soon be holding out their hands and passing you the rope because they realized they’d rather be tied to you than be ‘free’ to mingle and act single.
And, once your partner doesn’t have you anymore, they might realize how much they undervalued their real relationship with you, and then they’ll feel silly about how much they overvalued their stupid online relationships. Because let’s face it. Those online relationships aren’t real.
First of all, whoever they’re gawking at and flirting with online is presenting the best version of themselves on their profile at all times. The most attractive version of themselves is being displayed to your partner. The persona they present online is just as fake as the online relationships they entertain with your partner are.
Second of all, those online relationships aren’t going to make your partner feel the same way that their IRL deep connection with you made them feel.
Unfortunately, many people don’t know what they’ve got until it’s gone. So, when you walk away and give your partner all the freedom in the world to flirt with whoever they want, they’ll often realize what they really want, is you. They might ask for another chance.
The question is, should you forgive them and give them another chance?
Should You Forgive Your Partner for Cyber Cheating?
My personal opinion is that you shouldn’t forgive someone for online infidelity if they have a bunch of excuses, or try to justify their behavior, or gaslight you in any way. If they try to blame you for their cheating, they don’t deserve your forgiveness.
You also need to ask yourself, Is this the first time this has happened? If cyber cheating has been an issue in the past, and you’ve already been very clear about how much it hurts you and how you won’t stand for it, it’s probably not wise to forgive. Don’t forgive someone who is doing the exact same thing again, when that behavior already caused major problems in the past.
However, if they’re truly willing to grow and change, you could consider giving them another chance. Andrew G. Marshall explains to the cheaters out there, “If you are prepared to look deeply into yourself, learn from this experience, grow and change, there is a very high chance of your partner taking you back.”
The keyword here is change. They can’t just say they’re sorry or say they’ll try to change. Those are just words. They have to make a commitment to change and follow through on that commitment with actions. Words mean nothing if they aren’t backed with action.
So, what types of actions would help earn your trust back, if your partner cheated on you in the form of cyber cheating? What could they do to show you that they want to change, in order to keep you?
For one thing, they can deactivate their Instagram account if they were caught engaging in online affairs via Instagram. If they don’t want to lose you, they’ll do it.
Or, they could simply delete any and all mobile apps they used to engage in cyber cheating.
When debating whether or not you should forgive your partner for their online infidelity, it also helps to encourage your partner to do some deep thinking about the reasons why they cheated.
Whether it’s due to underlying issues within themselves, insecurities, low self-esteem, resentment towards you, or dissatisfaction within the relationship, your partner needs to do the inner work before they can ever be trusted to stop cheating. It’s possible they need therapy in order to resolve their underlying issues that cause them to cheat, but it’s also possible they’re simply not the relationship type.
Some People Just Aren’t Cut Out For Monogamous Relationships
Some people simply are not monogamous by nature. They tend to almost always have at least a few relationships going at the same time, even if some of them are online flirtations. It’s very rare for this type of person to sacrifice their other options for their partner or cut off contact with others. This means they aren’t the relationship type. Coming to terms with this fact can be difficult.
Kevin Crenshaw states, “If cheating is a pattern of behavior in their life, then that is certainly something to be aware of. I do believe though that if someone’s needs are being met deeply, and they’ve also done the inner work to heal their own insecurities or commitment issues, at that point they could overcome this behavior and stop.” In other words, unless they’ve done the inner work, they might continue to be a serial cheater.
In order for someone to figure out if they’re truly cut out for a real relationship, they’ll have to first get very honest with themselves. They’ll have to take a good look in the mirror and ask themselves questions such as, Have I cheated on my partners in the past? And, Has cyber cheating been a problem in past relationships, despite being given numerous chances to stop? As well as, Do I find myself constantly tempted to cheat, whether it’s online or offline? And, Am I constantly drawn to attractive people on social media, and unable to control my urges to flirt? And finally, Do I always tell myself that if I met the right person, I wouldn’t cheat, even though my patterns of behavior indicate that I might simply be the cheating type?
The reason why these types of questions are so powerful, is because it’s easy for your partner to blame you for their cheating. It’s easy to say that they resent you for something you did in the past, they’re not happy with you, or their needs aren’t met with you. However, if they can be honest that they’ve cheated on many of their past partners (even if it was only online cheating) they might start to realize that the problem is within themselves, and it’s not because of you that they’re a cheater.
Either way, it’s important that if you catch your loved one cyber cheating, that you’re honest about how hurt you are. Andrew G. Marshall explains, “Always be honest about your feelings. Most people are spending their lives swallowing their feelings and not being honest about them. That is the only way you and your partner can solve the problems. Feelings that are not expressed or are hidden become very toxic at some point.”
When cyber cheating takes place, a tough discussion will have to take place with some real bare-bones honesty. If your partner can’t honestly say they could stop this behavior, or tries to justify it too much, they may just not be the relationship type. At least you found out now, instead of five years from now.