I’ll start by saying we get too caught up today in terminology regarding what is misguided versus improper versus an affair. I’m not sure the definitions matter as much as just trying to do the right thing and agreeing with your partner regarding what that is. I think many couples would agree that online flirting is wrong (but they may not agree on what online flirtation is). Is it infidelity in the same way as sleeping with someone else? I think most people would say no. I think it comes to what you and your partner have agreed is appropriate.
And there is the matter of what online flirting is. The intent behind it may matter. Is it to try and rekindle an old relationship? Is it an attempt to get someone’s attention so you can bash your partner? Is it with someone you already know? Some people don’t care if, say, their partner likes or adds a heart-shaped emoji to a picture or post of a model who their partner will never end up with or communicate with. Many people are less concerned if it’s only one way and with someone their partner doesn’t know and won’t know. Others don’t find a distinction. Some consider looking at any kind of pornography (people can disagree as to the definition there too) as cheating, while others wouldn’t care less if their partner looks at posts flattering comments about an unknown person they see online. The online world keeps changing and I learn about different means of viewing and interacting with sexual material on the Internet almost every day. One person may not care if their partner looks at photos but may not allow videos. Some people are surprised to learn their partner has been viewing live and interactive online strip teases. Some “softer” material may be ok but other material not so much. There may need to be a discussion regarding what online viewing types and interactions are ok.
Some online flirting can be hurtful or more damaging than a physical affair. This theme has come up in many posts on infidelity, but I think it comes down to the same main points:
- Are you hiding something from your partner?
- Are you lying about your behavior?
- If your communications were discovered, would your partner be upset?
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, there is probably something improper going on or something the two of you should discuss. When something inappropriate has happened, the distinction between improper and an affair can undoubtedly matter to the future trust and health of the relationship (if it continues). For example, an improper social media post that is borderline or questionably flirty may be perceived differently than a long-running history of internet flirting that includes complaining about one’s partner or sending naked pictures. That’s not to say the first example couldn’t at least result in communication and a greater understanding of what each person considers unacceptable.
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