Is it Cheating if it's Online?

Dear Steve and Cathy,

Is it possible to "stray" when you spend time in chat rooms? My spouse enjoys pretending he's someone else while talking to women online. He hasn't met with any woman in person but has engaged in fantasy conversation. When I confronted him about this, he first denied it and then confessed. Currently, he's seeking help and hasn't used the computer in months. Is cold turkey the way to go? We've been married for more than 30 years and I find this rather disturbing. Is this scenario normal? --B.

Steve says:

Internet affairs are increasingly common, unfortunately. The anonymity is seductive, and given our growing social isolation, it's a tempting way to act out and connect.

It often begins innocently enough. But it's like the drug pusher on the corner telling you the first hit is free; after that, be prepared to pay a price for your addiction. That price could be your relationship.

It's especially challenging when you and your partner drift apart emotionally or sexually, which isn't uncommon in a long-term relationship. The key is not to let the distance between you get out of hand. If your partner is depressed or in other ways dissatisfied with life, the danger of an emotional or sexual affair becomes even greater, either through the Internet or more traditional channels.

If you catch your partner straying on the Internet, don't bury your head in the sand. Like any addiction, it will likely get worse before it gets better. Explore with your mate what he feels is missing in your relationship. But don't tolerate the behavior. Like an affair, it needs to be stopped -- cold turkey -- and immediately. But also expect some backsliding; if it's been going on for some time, it won't be an easy habit to break. Cathy says:I'm going to disagree with Steve. Your husband is getting help and hasn't used the computer for months. At this point I would drop it.Fantasizing is normal. Women fantasize about Prince Charming and indulge in romance novels and soap operas. Men fantasize about sexual liaisons and escapades.But fantasy is not reality. We can lust in our hearts (as President Jimmy Carter once confessed), yet still love and take care of our intimate relationships. The key is to develop the type of marriage where you have a clear commitment to fidelity.Talk to each other about what some of the danger spots are in your relationship and with others. Figure out clear plans to avoid hazardous situations. Stay loyal to each other and your commitment.Let go and forgive him for fantasizing about other women. Maybe add more fantasy to your relationship and play a little. Meet for a date and pretend you're picking each other up. It might add some zip to your marriage.
The Bottom Line From Cathy and Steve:1. Internet affairs are a new wrinkle in an old sheet -- sexual or romantic infidelity. Treat them as you would more traditional affairs.2. Don't tolerate them; insist that your partner quit immediately, but be realistic and expect some backsliding.3. To prevent Internet affairs (and affairs in general), make a clear commitment to each other regarding fidelity, plan ahead with your partner how to tackle potentially hazardous situations, and spice up your sex life.
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Source: Relationships & Love

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