Infidelity usually happens in secret. It takes some effort to organize schedules, meet in person, and avoid perception.

But what if those quiet footsteps become thumbs tapping away on a screen?

What if the secret meeting place was in the comfort of your own home?

What if no one could possibly recognize you online under a fake username?

Online infidelity can be scary not just because it’s infidelity, but because the signs are so subtle that it can be maddening to try and pick up on them. The effects of online infidelity on a relationship can be catastrophic at worst and eye-opening at best.

Let’s break them down.

First, What Classifies “Infidelity”?

It doesn’t matter if it started out as innocent emailing then grew into not-so-subtle, sexually explicit innuendos, invitations, and photos. It doesn’t matter if you never actually met up and had physical contact with each other.

If your actions caused your partner to feel betrayed or emotionally distressed, it has become a threat to your relationship. Some people view watching pornography as a sign of infidelity. It’s best to have an honest conversation with your partner about their levels of comfort with this before introducing it to the dynamic.

Even non-monogamous relationships have clear guidelines on who’s in, who’s out, and who’s okay under very specific conditions. Infidelity is any romantic or sexual interaction with someone outside of the terms of the relationship.

Effects On the Relationship

Online infidelity in a relationship can damage the level of trust you have with your partner, as well as dampen your self-esteem and lead to feelings of loneliness—in both of you.

Sexual Consequences

You may find trouble enjoying sex with your partner because it doesn’t feel as exciting or “perfect” as what you can get online. You may avoid sex altogether, or you may demand sexual behaviors you can find in pornography that your partner finds offensive to do.

Emotional Distancing

The longer you go demanding privacy, going to bed at different times, and making excuses for where you go, the quicker your partner will notice and detach themselves emotionally from you.

Soon you can both become distant and show indifference to improving obvious relationship problems. Holidays and celebrations may grow dull, muscles may tense anxiously whenever you’re together, and you may shirk responsibilities from not feeling fully committed to the family anymore.

Risk of Addiction and Depression

Every addict knows that addiction is a lifelong battle between them and the thing their body craves most. Relapses can happen at any time, and structuring their life around getting this one thing can threaten their relationships with loved ones.

Up to 17% of the people who use the internet for sexual content become addicted to it. This can lead to more defensive aggression thrown at your partner.

Enjoying high highs every day from sexual content online teaches your brain to reset its levels of happy neurotransmitters. Instead of experiencing a regular flow of moods throughout the day, now you may only feel content when watching porn. This tends to make every moment you’re not watching feel deeply pointless and depressing.

The Choices a Relationship Has

Some people choose to stay together, and others choose to split up. The choice (and the effort) is up to you. Working with a couples counselor is a great way to figure out why the infidelity happened, what problems in the relationship may have led to it, and what expectations you need to create to stay together confidently.

Some popular tricks used to rebuild trust include setting family pictures as your screensaver to remind you of the bigger picture, keeping internet devices in public view in the home, and taking internet “detoxes” together.

Whatever you choose, we’re here to help you work through it.