And what rights do you have as a partner who finds out that your significant other is having steamy interactions with someone else? Clinical psychologist and couples and sex therapist Dr Marlene Wasserman, better known by her pseudonym Dr Eve, addresses these questions and more in her new book Cyber Infidelity – The New Seduction.
“To quote Steve Jobs: I have given people something that they didn’t know they needed,” she says.
Wasserman used the database from AshleyMadison.com, a dating site catering for people in relationships looking for a bit of fun on the side, to research the world of online affairs. In the book she says she was outraged at the site when it first launched, calling creator Noel Biderman and telling him to take his site out of South Africa. However, when more and more users of the site started coming into her office for treatment, she realised there was more to it than meets the eye.
Interestingly enough, even after the recent hacking scandal that saw personal details from AshleyMadison.com being made public people are still happily using the site. “Technology has brought out something different in all of us. It has cracked open something that needed to be cracked open,” Wasserman says.
In the book she explores ways couples can renegotiate their relationships to adapt to an ever-changing world. But if you think that cyber infidelity doesn’t count, you’re wrong. Repairing a relationship after it’s discovered is often more difficult than after a physical act of cheating. People will always have cellphones, tablets and computers so there will always be doubt in a wronged partner’s mind.
“There isn’t a model for treatment. With real-life infidelity there is a process in terms of treatment where the relationship gets re-examined and boundaries can be put in place that limit risk. With cyber infidelity, you can’t have that because you can’t take away all devices. You have to deal with privacy and where it fits in. The process is slower. There are trigger points all the time,” Wasserman says.
She uses stories from different patients to highlight different scenarios in her book. In one, a man who took his infidelity offline and is now having an affair has decided to keep it going as he feels it is making him a better spouse.
“Secrets kill,” Wasserman says. “At the same time, it’s a very personal thing. Once you get caught, it’s the most devastating thing in the world. If you take on the responsibility of having an affair, you should take on the responsibility of the result.” At the end of the book, Wasserman provides “a netiquette management guide”. The aim of the guide is to provide talking points for couples to put boundaries in place for online communication.
One has to ask, are couples who don’t discuss social media usage doomed? Wasserman feels that if the trust is there, it doesn’t matter.
“I have a friend who never looks at her husband’s social media. It’s just that simple,” she says with a smile.