By Peggy Vaughan
Reflections on this scenario
The above scenario is so common as to allow for some general observations. First, any new connection is going to be exciting, but it may not be the particular person who makes the difference. The excitement has more to do with the "kind" of relationship than to the specific feelings about a "real" person. In any new relationship (whether or not it begins online), people present the best sides of themselves; it's not reflective of the whole person functioning in the real world.
Whatever loss you feel when the "Online Affair" ends is the loss of a "fantasy," not the real thing. All too often we think of "love" only as the initial "heady feelings of love." Falling in love (or "new love") produces some of the most intense feelings you will ever experience, but it doesn't last. While it may be a fantastic experience, much of the intensity of the feeling is inherent in its newness and novelty. Once a "fantasy" love takes on all the real-life responsibilities of a long-term relationship, the feelings either make the transition into the next, deeper stage of love, or they wither. So comparing the feelings in a new relationship with the feelings of a long-term marriage is like comparing apples and oranges.
As for the impact on the primary relationship, it's common to rationalize an online affair as being OK because it's "not really an affair." But it often has the potential for being as devastating to the partner as a sexual affair. (In fact, most people whose partners have a sexual affair find that they recover from the fact that their partner had sex with someone else before they recover from the fact that they were deceived.)
We like to think that deception is only involved when there's outright lying involved. But a more accurate definition of a lack of honesty in a relationship is "withholding relevant information." Anything that is deliberately hidden from a partner (whether it's the fact of being involved in an online affair or the specifics of the online interactions) creates an emotional distance that presents a serious problem that is difficult to overcome.
So while people may disagree about the "definition" of an affair, there's no mistaking the impact of "Online Affairs" on the partner who is feeling hurt and threatened. When these hurt feelings are ignored or dismissed as unreasonable, it shows a "lack of caring" that is far more of a threat to the relationship than the "affairs" themselves.
Online Affairs often lead to the diminishing or destruction of primary relationships — although this was not the original intention. And in hindsight, many people who wind up having affairs recognize that they could have/should have known what they were getting into, but they simply blocked it out. A common lament is, "I didn't intend to have an affair."
When it comes to Online Affairs, it's not just a question of whether it's "wrong," but whether it's "smart." In looking for something "better in life" or a way to "get more out of life," people often wind up with less. We need to find some other avenue for igniting the positive "alive" feelings that are a big part of the enticement of Online Affairs.
The appeal of Online Affairs can serve as a signal that we need to re-think all aspects of our lives and determine what we can do to feel more "alive" that is rooted in reality (instead of fantasy) — and that does not come with such a high price. If it's too late to avoid this issue because you're involved in an Online Affair or you believe/know your partner is involved in one, I hope you will use the information and perspective on this Website and in our books to help you understand and recover from this experience.
Adapted from The Monogamy Myth