Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Tweeting Or Cheating? Social Media Affairs And What To Do

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Do you know the signs of a social media affair (a.k.a. online affair)?

This article was released originally on August 26, 2015 shortly after recent developments surrounding the Ashley Madison Breach. I felt it timely to reacquaint us all on social media affairs and signs of them.

The fact that 81% of the nation's top divorce attorneys say they have seen an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence during the past five years, creates more than enough concern that we're heading in the wrong direction. A 2010 survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reveals the growing magnitude of this problem and its widespread effects.

It's a problem I witness daily in my office. For example,

"My stomach churned as I read this article about Facebook. It IS a trap and if you do not have a solid marriage you fall, unfortunately, for the kind words and attention, especially the part about, 'You never aged and you are just as beautiful as you were in school.' I wish there was a cure for my stupidity. I wish I could rewind things back to the day when I took the bait. I knew not to accept this guy's friend request. He was such a bad boy in high school and, truth be told, I broke up with him because he was a hell raiser and a partier..."

Another client of mine wrote this...

"My wife's affair was more of a texting adventure gone bad, although I can see how being friends on Facebook contributed to the warm fuzzies that led to the affair, which was ignited one day when this "friend" began to text her with more daring and intimate thoughts. Like you said, 'instant access to people's actions and lives plays into the affair.'..."

Anyone that's ever been through infidelity will tell you it's devastating. What further troubles me is the recent news that a victim of the Ashley Madison hack has committed suicide, rather than attempt to find help for their crisis. There is a better way and there is hope for us as a nation.

What makes us vulnerable to online affairs and social media relationships?

  1. Quick Response The instant gratification of online access allows rapid reinforcement of behavior, which causes emotions to drive the process rather than our rational self.
  2. Accessibility The Internet and social media sites provide access to people we would not rub elbows with in our normal life.
  3. The Online Disinhibition Effect Due to the invisibility provided by the Internet, people are less inhibited and will say or do things online that they would never speak or do to someone in person.
  4. Anonymity Not being known by the other party allows an individual to role-play whatever personality they can imagine. It's a powerful drug to have others respond to you as the person you've always wanted to be.
  5. Affordability This is the false idea that if it's not hurting anyone, then there's no harm. The fact that there seems to be no apparent cost associated with the behavior (either financially or relationally) makes it seem more acceptable.
  6. The Illusion of Secrecy This allows for my own self-gratification. No one will ever know I'm living a secret life and fulfilling my fantasies while living as a married person.
  7. Escapism The fact that one can seemingly escape the responsibilities of real life like bills, mood swings, deadlines, mortgages, etc., provides a context of fantasy and escapism.

There may be a problem with your online relationship if...

  1. You hesitate before friending that person knowing your spouse would not approve of your connection or relationship with them.
  2. You're constantly preoccupied with this person when you're around your spouse or children.
  3. Getting away from a computer or mobile device causes stress as you fear you'll be missing this "friend" too much.
  4. You share more with your online "friend(s)" than with your mate.
  5. You lock your mobile device and computer down at all times to avoid your spouse seeing any communication between you two.
  6. Meeting face-to-face seems like a better idea than talking online.
  7. Time spent with your online "friend" exceeds time spent with family or work.
  8. Wondering what your "friend" is doing becomes your primary past time.
  9. If either of you have said or end up saying, "This may be inappropriate; we need to slow down." (When that happens, you don't need to cut back, you need to cut it off, because you've become addicted to that person)
  10. 1Interest in your "friend" exceeds your interest in your mate.

If an online relationship has become a problem...

  1. Do what is necessary to terminate the relationship or behavior. The gradual process is of no use at all. Cut it off, if possible, and if you find you can't stop it, then get help either from a professional counselor, trusted friend, pastor, priest or 12 step books. Do whatever it takes to get disentangled from the online affair.
  2. Do the necessary work to discover what it was that made you vulnerable in the first place and what made your marriage vulnerable.
  3. Tell your mate what's going on, but don't blame your mate. Remember, bad marriages don't cause this, bad choices do. Take personal responsibility. I realize they will be upset, but they need to know you're choosing them over the behavior or person. Learning how to recover from an affair means being honest, even if it is just an online relationship.
  4. Come clean on your own. As in the case with a multitude of people who have been 'found out,' it doesn't have to be that way. Consider getting help from an expert third party and asking them to help you share what has unfortunately gone on. What's left in darkness is under the power and the shame of that darkness. There is more freedom in the light than you can possibly imagine, but you have to come to it first. It all doesn't have to make sense right now. It's about doing the next 'right thing.'
  5. Work on healing and growing your marriage with an expert who can help you repair the damage and save the marriage.

How should a person make sure that he or she never crosses the line on a social networking site, or any other site?

Here are some suggestions by my good friend Joe Beam.

First, always remember, "it could happen to me," and place boundaries around you and your relationship so that it cannot. Do NOT flirt! Yes, it can stroke the ego, but it can also plant the seed of the poison that will destroy you.

One woman wrote, "Pay attention to the red flags and resist the urge for connection and attachment when they come along. And be willing to hit the 'unfriend' button if the relationship is moving into the flirting zone." The problem comes when you wait until later rather than sooner to stop. Wait long enough, and you will not stop. Frequently, a couple with a strong marriage will come in saying, "We had the perfect marriage".

Second, be absolutely open and honest with your spouse about everything.

A wife shared, "If your spouse asks who just 'reached out' to you or 'friended you' online, don't do as I used to and tell him 'no one' when it's someone you shouldn't be talking to. Be honest about who you are communicating with. Openness with your spouse regarding ALL of your social media accounts is the key. For those of you who are in recovery, it's essential that your spouse have all your passwords and ability to see any and all of your social media activity. This cannot be an optional item in your own personal recovery work.

Finally, always prioritize your marriage. Do all you can to never take it for granted. Even good marriages may be corruptible because of boredom, feelings of loneliness, desire for a simpler life, cravings for escapism, or just plain old curiosity. At least every six months, couples should do something together to strengthen their marriage. Work through a good marriage book, find and spend a few hours with a mentor couple, or take a long weekend without the children, work, or any interruptions and do a lot of talking about whatever comes to mind.

If you're looking for how to heal from infidelity of any kind, please consider our EMS Weekend intensive. Our success rate is unparalleled. While you and your mate may be traumatized, you don't have to stay that way and you don't have to repeat old habits that seem insurmountable at times.

It's not as hopeless as it seems and you won't find a safer place to find help and healing than our EMS Weekend.

If you are in need of individual help, consider enrolling in our Hope for Healing course for wayward spouses. Find out how infidelity-specific help can change your marriage and your life.

Hope for Healing registration opens monthly. Subscribe to be notified.
This online course for unfaithful spouses fills up quickly, so don't wait! Discover how a supportive non-judgmental environment paired with expert content can provide life-changing hope, clarity, and healing.

Subscribe Now!

"This is the best thing we could have ever done for our relationship following infidelity. I don't know that we would make it without EMS Online. I now have hope."

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