Internet Infidelity: Married Christians and Cyber Affairs
Cyber affairs can devastate a marriage, and Christian couples are not immune. What is Internet infidelity, and how can married couples prevent it?
Christians and the Internet
The Internet is an amazing tool. It throws the doors wide open to opportunities that were once only imagined. With nearly unlimited access to information, anyone can become an expert on just about anything.
Despite the negative attention it receives in some Christian circles, the Internet is a useful tool for believers. Online Bible resources and vast social networks encourage spiritual growth and help Christians put God's Word into action.
There is a downside, however. Christians can travel a number of dark avenues on the Internet: pornography, gambling, gossip media, and more. If they are not careful, they can destroy their marriages with a cyber affair.
Christians and Cyber Affairs
Cyber affairs are online relationships that involve intimate or sexually explicit communication between a married person and someone other than their spouse.
Married people may justify their online relationships because they view them as virtual connections rather than adulterous relationships. This is particularly true of emotional relationships that are not yet sexual.
Married people cross a line when they share intimate thoughts and feelings with someone other than their spouse. Thinking they have found their "soul mate," they may share personal things that they keep from their partners. Seemingly innocent conversations can quickly escalate into extramarital affairs.
Cyber affairs can threaten a marriage even if it does not involve sexual activity. According to the Not "Just Friends" author, Shirley Glass, online liaisons involve three elements of emotional affairs: secrecy, intimacy, and sexual chemistry. While they may seem like harmless, "safe" alternatives to cheating on a spouse, they can devastate marriages.
The Allure of Cyber Affairs
Christians who venture into online communities rarely expect their conversations to develop into affairs. They may wander into chat rooms for the discussions only to make emotional connections that could lead to adultery.
Cyber affairs usually result from the sex / intimacy exchange that often occurs in male / female relationships. "Women often give sex to get intimacy, and men give intimacy to get sex," says the Focus on the Family founder, James Dobson. Email, chat rooms, instant messaging, newsgroups, and even online games have a way of bringing these tendencies together, he says.
Like the intrigue of a masquerade ball, Internet affairs have an allure that is fun for a season. In fact, Internet infidelity is so widespread because of the mystery and anonymity. Online affairs let people enter a fantasy world to escape a real world that is filled with conflict.
Cyber affairs allow people to create a new persona. Online, their strengths outweigh their weaknesses. They can socialize with someone without the conflicts that occur in face-to-face conversations. Internet affairs are mysterious and exhilarating, much like a dating relationship before marriage.
Motivation for Cyber Affairs
Peggy Vaughn, the author of The Monogamy Myth, predicted that the Internet would become a breeding ground for adultery. She was right.
If left unchecked, online affairs can evolve into sexual affairs. Studies show that 30 percent of cyber affairs escalate from emails to phone calls to personal contact.
Cyber affairs develop because online relationships meet emotional or social needs that are not getting met in the real world. Self esteem tops the list of motivators.
According to Kerby Anderson, the president of Probe Ministries, "self esteem needs are met through knowing, understanding, and acceptance." Psychologists say that these needs are enhanced by intimate talks about thoughts and feelings.
Studies indicate that women enter extramarital affairs for love, friendship, and a desire to feel needed. Men usually turn to affairs for friendship, fun, and sexual fulfillment.
While cyber affairs may not involve sex, the strong emotional attachments they create can cause intense feelings of pain. When an affair ends, these emotions can turn to guilt.
Three Warning Signs
- Is your spouse obsessed with checking email and social networking sites?
- Does your spouse stay on the computer late into the night, after you have gone to bed?
- Does your spouse minimize the computer screen when you walk into the room?
A "yes" answer to these questions may be cause for concern, but they are merely a guide. Christian spouses may be guilty of all three, yet not be having a cyber affair.
If you suspect inappropriate behavior, go to your spouse and express your concerns in a godly way. If there is a problem, seek counseling and spiritual guidance.
With the Lord's help, you can survive a cyber affair.
Preventing Cyber Affairs
Most people eventually tire of living their online personas. What they want, most of all, is someone who loves them for who they are. Unfortunately, this realization often comes after they have damaged their marriage with a cyber affair.
How can Christian couples prevent cyber affairs? Frank Pittman, author of Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of Intimacy, offers a general guideline:
1. Married couples should accept the possibility of sexual fantasies and attraction to other people. They should acknowledge these fantasies, but not act on them.
2. Couples should socialize with other monogamous couples. Solid Christian couples provide a good support system, but "bad company corrupts good morals" (1 Corinthians 15:33).
3. Marriage takes work. Christians must build intimacy with their partners and keep their marriage sexy. They must also keep the marriage equal, sharing duties and responsibilities.
4. Christians are imperfect people like everyone else. They must accept the realities of an imperfect marriage. But they should be open, honest, and authentic with their partners.
5. God commands Christians to stay faithful to their spouses. According to Exodus 20:14, "you shall not commit adultery." Christians should make marriage a part of their identity and take it with them wherever they go.
6. Christians should avoid overreacting if a cyber affair happens in their marriage. Like real world affairs, online affairs can destroy a marriage -- but they do not have to lead to "divorce, murder, or suicide," Pittman says. "Catch yourself and work yourself back into the marriage."
Did your marriage survive a cyber affair? How did you cope? Leave a comment below and join the conversation. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your social networks.
- Anderson, Kerby. (2009) "The Allure of Cyber Relationships." Probe Ministries. Retrieved June 23, 2011.
- Anderson, Nancy C. (June 22, 2005) "The Warning Signs of Infidelity." Crosswalk. Retrieved June 23, 2011.
- Frame, Randy. (2008) "Internet Infidelity." Today's Christian Woman. Retrieved June 29, 2011.
- Gardner, Marilyn. (August 19, 2004) "Is it Cyber-Flirting or Cyber-Betrayal?" The Christian Science Monitor: Retrieved June 29, 2011.
- Houston, Ruth. (September 9, 2009) "The Truth About Cyber Affairs and Online Infidelity." Examiner. Retrieved June 23, 2011.
© 2011 Annette R. Smith
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