How to Protect Your Relationship from Online Infidelity
By: Caela Cohen, M.S.Ed.
In the previous blog, some of the reasons why online infidelity is so common were outlined: unlimited opportunities for connection, the appeal of online communication, and the ease of anonymity. Now that the “why” is recognized, the question that must be asked is what can you do to prevent your relationship from falling victim to online infidelity? The truth is that it depends.
As touched upon in the first blog on online infidelity, there is no clear definition or boundaries when it comes to online behaviors. How will you and your partner be able to prevent these behaviors if you don’t even know what is acceptable? Although it may sound vague, when it comes down to it, what really matters is you and your partner. Each of you will have differing opinions and feelings when it comes to internet and social media practices, and they are all valid.
Below are four steps you and your partner can take to help define what online infidelity means to your relationship and how to prevent your relationship from being affected by it.
SET RULES AND BOUNDARIES
It is up to you and your partner to determine what boundaries should be in place for using the internet as a social mechanism, just as you would set boundaries around your behaviors with others in-person. What is acceptable and unacceptable social media and internet usage? You may initially have disagreements about acceptable usage and rules you want in place. Discuss where each boundary is coming from and if it is in line with your values as a couple. Knowing how each boundary relates to a shared value may help you understand and accept why that boundary should be in place. Be open with your partner about your emotions if this boundary were to be crossed. Also allow discussion about access to phones and internet accounts to help keep each of you accountable.
DISCUSS INTENTION AND MOTIVATION BEHIND ONLINE BEHAVIORS
Have a conversation with your partner about the purpose of the internet in your lives and how you both use social media, websites, forums, and text messaging. After understanding the role the online world plays for each of you, have a discussion about why each of you behaves as you do on the internet. What was the intention behind sending that message or liking that picture? What is the motivation behind not letting your partner read your texts? Without being accusatory, this may be a good time to bring up some of the online behaviors your partner engages in that make you uncomfortable. You may find that you or your partner’s intentions may be in seeking something that is not being received from the relationship; in this case, you now know what areas in your relationship need to be strengthened. On the other hand, your worries may be eased by each of your answers, and your relationship reinforced.
DON’T COMPARE PARTNER
It’s important not to compare your partner to other people you see on the internet, or your relationship to other couples you see on the internet. Remember that what people show on the internet is usually the best versions of themselves and does not display the hardships they experience as individuals or as a couple. It is also essential not to compare the content of the conversations you and your partner have had, as well as the rules and boundaries you set, with those of other couples you observe. You might feel jealousy or regret after hearing that your friend’s relationship has looser rules around online infidelity. Each relationship is unique, and keep in mind that what might be best for one couple may not be best for another.
DETERMINE TRUST LEVEL
After having a discussion about setting rules and boundaries, motivation and intention, and reminding yourself not to compare your partner or relationship to anyone else’s, check the level of confidence you have in both yourself and in our partner in following the rules and boundaries. If, after those initial three steps, you still feel like you cannot trust your partner, or even yourself, there may be a bigger concern present in your relationship for which you may need to seek further help.
The internet is always evolving, and will continue to grow and surprise us with the different ways in which we can connect with others in our community and around the world. What needs to stay constant are the values and expectations you and your partner share regarding the internet. It may take time to work through the steps listed above, but with time and honest conversation with your partner, the frustration and confusion you feel about online infidelity will become clearer, and will hopefully lead you to a more assured relationship with your partner.