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I can't believe my partner cheated online

Published in Uncategorised by Dr Naomi Moller of The Open University on October 18th 2021

Face-to-face affairs have a huge negative impact on a partner. It seems that online affairs are no different.

Finding out about any affair can be devastating

Research on face-to-face infidelity shows that finding out that your partner has cheated can have a huge impact – it can make a person feel undesirable, insecure, hostile and helpless. Finding out about an affair can also bring on anxiety and depression. The person who ‘cheats’ can also feel anxious and guilty.

Online cheating hurts as bad as face-to-face affairs

Initially, researchers questioned whether ‘virtual’ affairs were as damaging for relationships as face-to-face ones. The mounting evidence suggests that they are. People who’ve taken part in research report feeling significant distress, hurt and loss of trust in their relationship following discovery of online cheating. They also report negative impacts on both their relationship and their families.

Mounting evidence suggests that virtual affairs are as damaging for relationships as face-to-face ones

Finding out about an online affair can be particularly shocking

Discovering that your partner’s having an online affair can be particularly difficult. Research suggests that this is because online cheating:

  • can be discovered suddenly
  • typically occurs, at least in part, in the shared spaces/home
  • often has a permanent online record, which provides enduring detail about the affair

These factors may make the initial shock even greater.

How could my partner do that to me?

Discovering an online affair can make a person feel a strong sense of betrayal for two reasons:

  1. Research suggests that people can do things online that they would never do face-to-face. This is because the online world is anonymous and online behaviours can seem more acceptable. For more information, see our ‘why is it easy to cheat online?’ page.
  2. Research also suggests that being online can enable people to behave, or seem different than they do offline – such as being more confident or flirty. As one research participant said:

I have a deep mistrust in the internet, and feel it massively facilitates infidelity. My ex-husband is inherently a very shy man, but online he is able to act much more confidently and attract the attention of other women. I strongly believe he would [not] have had so many affairs without the internet.

Finding out that your partner seems to be a different person online can feel really betraying – like you never knew them at all.

If you are struggling with the impact of an online affair, see our ‘counselling for online cheating’ resource.

To see the full list of research references which have informed the content on this page, please see our research references section.

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