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Is Online Cheating Really Infidelity?

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A man standing in front of a sliding glass door looking at his cell phone
Photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash

It’s just a TV show. Nothing that happens on “Real Housewives” is “real.” Right?

Meghan King Edmonds seemed to think her husband’s problem was real. Real enough that it led to the couple’s separation. Edmonds announced via podcast she had separated from her husband, Jim, because of his online cheating. Meghan King Edmonds explained her husband was sexting and had sent inappropriate texts to another woman. For Edmonds, online infidelity is just as destructive as physical infidelity. “I consider that cheating,” she said.

Meghan King Edmunds isn’t the only person who has struggled with a spouse’s behavior in the digital world. Nor is her marriage the only union that has ended because one — or both — spouses went one click too far.

Love (and online cheating) is just a click away

In any minute, over one million people log in to Facebook, over 347,000 people scroll through Instagram, Tinder (the “dating” app) gets 1.4 million swipes from people looking for love and users of Messenger and WhatsApp send over 41 million messages back and forth. Given the amount of online content available — any time you log in — it’s very possible you’ll run into a post or invite from an old friend, an old flame or ex-spouse. It’s up to you to decide whether to click, read, respond or ignore it. Unfortunately, some people make the same choice as Meghan King Edmunds’ husband.

Online cheating is a growing problem

Experts aren’t sure how many marriages are affected by online cheating. Between 20 and 30% of divorces in the U.S. are blamed on Facebook. The hard truth, though, is that while Facebook may make it easy to get in touch or respond to someone, we all have to choose how we’ll use it.

The Bible tells us to guard our hearts. (Proverbs 4:23) What’s true in real life is also true online. Online cheating causes just as much damage as “real-life” affairs. How can we avoid unhealthy online connections? Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President of Marriage at Focus on the Family, recommends asking yourself three questions about your online relationships:

  • Am I being sneaky about this conversation? Are you hiding your conversation from your spouse? Do you respond when no one’s looking? Dr. Smalley says it’s important to be honest with yourself about online connections. “If I have to sneak around to do something, it’s probably not right.” Keep a “no-secret” policy when it comes to online relationships.
  • Am I sharing deeper emotional information than is appropriate? Dr. Smalley says it this way, “Should this information be reserved for my spouse?” If you’re talking about deep, emotional feelings — negative or positive — then you’re opening up the possibility for something more. Something you should only give your spouse. Online cheating can start as something and then grows as you share emotions and feelings.
  • Am I giving my spouse the right to tell me to end the relationship? Marriage is exclusive. There’s only room for a husband and wife. “I give my wife the right 100% to tell me to end an online connection,” Dr. Smalley says. “Everything is out in the open. We have a no-secret policy.” While giving someone the right to tell you to end an online friendship may seem drastic, Dr. Smalley puts it this way: “There is no relationship more important than my marriage.”

The importance of online boundaries

Avoid the trap of online cheating. Guard your heart and be careful when cultivating online relationships with the opposite sex. You’ll save yourself a lot of made-for-TV drama and you’ll be investing in the most important relationship of your life.

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