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Infidelity involves a violation of trust and may damage the commitment romantic partners have made to one another. Sharpe, Walter, and Goren (2013) share that “Infidelity is a serious relationship issue, as it not only reflects instability within the primary relationship, but also may have intense negative consequences for both individuals in the dyad” (p. 644). One issue faced when discussing infidelity and Internet infidelity is that there is so much variation in what infidelity means. In addition, there are differences in how couples view infidelity, work through it (if they so choose), and recover from it.
First, the definition of infidelity is vague and may differ from couple to couple and even amongst partners within a couple. The Perceptions of Dating Infidelity Scale (PDIS; Wilson, Mattingly, Clark, Weidler, & Bequette, 2011) is a measure that assesses subjects’ attitudes toward different behaviors that may constitute cheating. Sample behaviors include dancing with someone other than your partner and dating someone other than your partner. It is important to note that one person’s perception of cheating may differ (sometimes dramatically) from another’s.
Defining Online Infidelity
Defining infidelity in the online domain can be even more challenging. Researchers Hertlein and Piercy (2012) had difficulty coming up with a consensus from a Delphi study examining the way “experts” work with clients who experienced Internet infidelity.
In discussing online infidelity, Cooper and Griffin-Shelly (2002) note that it “…involves sexuality for purposes of recreation, entertainment, exploration, support, education, commerce, efforts to attain or secure sexual or romantic partners, and so on” (p. 3). Whitty (2003) came up with three categories of infidelity based on a study in which participants ranked 15 behaviors: sexual infidelity, emotional infidelity, and pornography use.
In a study conducted by Henline, Lamke, and Howard (2007), the researchers found four activities that constitute being unfaithful to a partner: online sex, emotional involvement with someone online, online dating, and other online sexual interactions. Of the four, the majority of participants noted that emotional online behaviors were more damaging than sexual behaviors.
Online infidelity can be harmful to a relationship and can damage a person’s trust in their partner. However, what constitutes these acts is not so clear cut. As such, it is important to have an open and honest discussion with your partner should you have concerns about his or her online behaviors. Perhaps what one partner considered permissible is off limits to the other. Without clear communication, this can lead to the demise of the relationship.