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Dr Gabrielle Morrissey: Sexologist

Dr Gabrielle Morrissey has been a sexologist — sexuality educator, sex therapist and sex researcher — since 1990. She is also the author a number of successful books. ASK ME A QUESTION

Cheating over the Internet

Monday, July 5, 2010
Cheating, online. Image: Getty

Last year I discovered my husband was having an Internet affair. He denied it for some time, however, I was able to find his email address and produce hard copy details. Discovering this issue hurt me no end and his explanation was that it was a fantasy and nothing else. However, he is playing with real lives and trust for me is now a real issue. Whenever he is late home or home alone or going out somewhere I am always thinking he is with someone else. I feel his is still having some kind of affair over the net and become anxious all the time about phone messages/calls etc. I know this is an insecurity issue but it leaves me feeling sick and used. What should I do?

The first thing you need to do is continue to talk to your husband about this issue, rather than feel alone with anxiety, suspicion and insecurity.

It’s understandable that you feel betrayed, particularly because when he was cheating he also lied. Even if he never met up with anyone, and contained his actions to the net and not "real" life, I still label this e-dultery because it was a betrayal and secretive, hurtful behaviour.

If a partner does something secretive, something that they wouldn’t do in front of their lover such as flirt, send intimate or sexual emails, kiss or have sex with someone, then it can be construed as a betrayal. And while he says it was a fantasy, the fact is you were hurt by it and definitely considered it cheating. He didn’t include you and actively hid it from you, so this makes it a betrayal for you.

Moreover, he didn’t admit to the cheating and even when questioned by you, denied it. He kept denying it until he was presented with evidence gained by you that it had occurred. So this goes beyond fantasy: if it had been a harmless fantasy, he probably wouldn’t have lied about it and repeatedly denied it. It continued for some time, and generally a fantasy includes some pornographic exploration and experimentation on the net, but doesn’t constitute an Internet relationship — at least when someone is already committed in a real life relationship.

So as a result, it’s a natural reaction on your part to be suspicious, jealous, insecure and upset. However, this is no way to live and you’ve got to find a way to move forward.

If you want to stay together, you’ve got to move forward as a couple, and this means dealing with the issues as a couple. He has got to understand why you feel betrayed, and the two of you need to establish new and clear boundaries for your marriage in terms of intimacy, sex and trust. You need to be able to trust again, and he needs to be able to show you he is trustworthy, now and in the future.

For awhile in the immediate future, it may mean that he is transparent with you about his activities on the net, allowing you access to what he does and who he talks to so you can learn to trust that he has turned over a new leaf. You’re not to be his gatekeeper though, and the goal would be to move on to a place of trust and independence for you both, both on the net and in real life.

Also, you may want to check in with each other about each other’s whereabouts, for a few weeks and months, to once again establish trust. But again, this is a short term measure to establish new trustworthy patterns and positive communication so that you can learn to believe in each other again, where you are, who you’re interacting with and who you are most loyal to.

Trust is gained mostly through intimacy and open communication together. You cannot live in suspicion and jealousy and hope to have a healthy relationship, and nor can you live with constant check ins and cross examinations and hope to be happy. So you need to work together to learn to trust again, and be trustworthy again. You need to re-establish your bond and your place in each other’s lives as each other’s number one priority. Because when you feel that level of intimacy and importance for one another, the fidelity and trust come without the doubt.

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