Affairs Begin With Communication
Infidelity begins with contact—often through covert communication, which is easier than ever in today´s world. Text messages are discreet; they do not involve a ringing phone. And they can be exchanged at all hours of the day or night. Sure, there is a digital paper trail; but that can be erased easily enough, and many people have multiple phones and devices.
Within relationships, the ease and privacy of texting can negatively impact relational trust. Research indicates that a significant amount of couples admit to snooping through each other´s cell phones looking for evidence of communication with extra-relational love interests.[i] Unfortunately, many partners find exactly what they were looking for.
Ideally, couples do not want to be policing each others´ cell phone use or going through phone records. Clearly, it is better to avoid going down that road to begin with. But how?
How Texting Becomes Sexting
It is no secret that committed couples often seek extra-relational partners on the Internet. Diane Wysocki and Cheryl Childers in a piece entitled “Let My Fingers Do the Talking” (2011), found that married couples searched online for offline extra-marital partners both for dating, and just for sex.[ii] They define ‘‘sexting” as sending and receiving sexually explicit photos or text messages through the use of digital cameras and cell phones.
Thankfully, most partners do not actively seek out relational alternatives online. Yet many people still somehow end up sending or receiving inappropriate messages. How does texting become sexting? The short answer is when one of the communication partners seeks to take a platonic or business relationship to another level.
Avoiding a Wandering Eye Can Prevent a Wandering Heart
The problem faced by many couples is the exposure to seductive communication online, when they are already in an established relationship offline. Sometimes it happens out of the blue, such as when a co-worker or acquaintance sends a complimentary email or text message. Innocent enough, right? Wrong. Consider whether it would be appropriate for the sender to relay the same message in person. If the answer is no, their message is not appropriate online either.
Sure, many such communications are due to lapses in judgment, social awkwardness, or other innocent explanations. But many such messages are manipulative–designed to test the waters. A receptive response will fuel the fire—and lead to further communication.
Texting to Sexting—Avoiding Virtual Shades of Grey
It is not always simple to view platonic versus romantically tinged text messages as black and white. Maintaining emotional exclusivity therefore means avoiding virtual shades of grey. As a practical matter, text messages enter the grey area when the content or timing of the messages indicates the intentions of a third party may be inappropriate.
Maybe your boss is a night owl who emails everyone in the office at 10:00 pm, confining the content to business related messages. But nighttime text messages from acquaintances are different. Private “talking” with someone else from the privacy of your bedroom while your partner is right next to you does not promote relational health.
Sure, you can carbon copy your partner on all communication in pursuit of transparency; but that ends up looking like an insecure method of supervision. A better idea is to avoid giving your personal number to potential romantic alternatives in the first place. Regardless of your intentions, people with ulterior motives might use your contact information to establish a secret line of communication.
Think you can hold the boundary line? Consider the difference between talking and texting. Live conversation with colleagues, friends, and neighbors, even on the phone, is usually confined to topics within socially acceptable boundaries, considering the relationships involved.
Not so in the virtual realm. Virtual conversation partners can carefully and strategically craft witty, charming messages, specifically designed for their target audience—even if they know he or she is “taken.” Many recipients of such messages will delete them immediately, or notify the sender the content is inappropriate. But not everyone will react negatively. Some will not be offended; they will be flattered. This is how affairs begin.
Maintain Relationships in Real Time
Offline relationships provide sustenance and comfort in real time to a degree that is impossible to achieve online. Balancing technology and personal interaction is important to maximize efficiency without compromising intimacy. Your goal is to maintain the same types of boundaries online as you do offline. Your relationship with your loved one is not worth the compromise.
[i]Michael J. Dunn and Holly Mclean, “Jealousy-Induced Sex Differences in Eye Gaze Directed at Either Emotional- or Sexual Infidelity-Related Mobile Phone Messages,” Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, vol. 18, no. 1, 2015, pp. 37–40.
[ii]Diane Wysocki and Cheryl Childers. “Let My Fingers Do the Talking: Sexting and Infidelity in Cyberspace,” Sexuality & Culture, vol. 15, no. 3, 2011, pp. 217–239.