Monday, May 10, 2010

Cyber Cheating

We are getting into marriage season and one thing that has been on my mind is how much marital infidelity there is that falls short of full sexual adultery but is equally destructive to the domestic church that every Catholic marriage and family should be. With the Internet and chat rooms, this type of emotional infidelity -- or cyber cheating -- has become rampant as spouses spend more and more time online at the expense of their real life partners.


Some of the warning signs that cyber cheating may be at work in your couple:

1. You have little or no sex. Partner is always too busy or tired.
2. You have petty arguments.
3. You feel like you don’t have anything in common any more.
4. One of you is no longer attracted to the other.
5. Partner spends unusually long periods of time on cell phone or computer.
6. Partner suddenly becomes hypercritical about your appearance.
7. Partner becomes secretive or defensive when questioned about their behavior.
8. Partner loses interest in relationship or family activities.
9. Partner stays on computer very late at night after you have retired.
10. Partner secures their computer in a locked area or with passwords you don’t have access to.


Use this as a checklist to see if your online relationship with someone of the opposite sex has drifted from friendship to cyber cheating:

1. You are withdrawing from your spouse.
2. You are preoccupied and daydream about your online friend more and more.
3. You are not interested in being intimate with your spouse, either emotionally or sexually.
4. The amount of time you and your spouse spend together is less, while the time you spend with your online friend increases.
5. When confronted about the apparent emotional affair, you get defensive and respond, "We're just friends."
6. You find yourself anticipating when you can communicate or be with your online friend again.
7. You are sharing your thoughts, feelings, and problems with your online friend instead of your spouse.
8. You find crazy excuses to send your online friend personal notes, photos, or other "gifts".
9. You think your online friend understands you better than your spouse does.
10. You are keeping your friendship a secret from your spouse.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not specifically mention emotional infidelity. "Adultery refers to marital infidelity. When two partners, of whom at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations - even transient ones - they commit adultery. Christ condemns even adultery of mere desire. The sixth commandment and the New Testament forbid adultery absolutely." (CIC 2380).

The cyber cheater may even justify their behavior by saying that they don't feel desire or lust for their online friend, that they are just looking for a confidante. However, the Church disapproves of cyber cheating and other forms of emotional infidelity because they violate the essence of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony which is that a couple "give themselves definitively and totally to one another." (CIC 2364). When a person reserves their innermost thoughts and dreams for an online friend rather than sharing them with their spouse, they are no longer giving themselves totally to their partner.

Cyber cheating and emotional infidelity can also become near occasions of sin in that they have the potential to lead to actual physical adultery. The Church instructs us that we are to avoid near occasions for sin and so those who see themselves in the warning lists above might want to take the following steps:

1. Examine the nature of your communication with online friends of the opposite sex. Is it appropriate and necessary or does it go overboard? If necessary, try to curtail your communication with your online friend. Ask yourself on each transaction: "Would I send this e-mail or post this message or comment if my spouse were looking over my shoulder?" If the answer is "no", don't do it. You should not be doing anything online that you can't tell your spouse about.

2. This post is not about Internet pornography -- a different sin against marriage and chastity and one explicitely prohibited by the Church (CIC 2354) -- but obviously you should not be engaged in that either and, if you are and can't control that aspect of your online activity, if it's an addiction, you should seek professional help. You can try using site blocking software to help but serious Internet porn addicts are usually not deterred and become accustomed to bypassing any blocking software that has been installed.

3. Are you engaged in excessive non work-related computer use that takes you away from your spouse and family? Try limiting how much time you spend on the computer after hours, especially at home. Set a "curfew" for your journeys into cyberspace.

While the Catechism doesn't address this sort of behavior specifically, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' For Your Marriage Web site does:

...There are some infidelities, however, that are not of a sexual nature. While these may appear to be less severe than sexual infidelity, they can also cause harm to a marriage, especially if left unchecked.

For example, one partner may have a relationship that mimics an affair in that a third party or entity takes an inordinate amount of one’s time, energy and emotional investment to the detriment of the primary marital relationship. This “third party” may be the custom of sharing daily coffee, or a similar get-together, with a co-worker without the marriage partner’s knowledge...

...Similarly, internet chatting can be either sexual or non-sexual and has the potential to be a dangerous form of unfaithfulness within the marriage. This particular problem can also become an addiction and needs to be addressed, often through the use of an intervention...
If you find you can't control your cyber cheating behavior, especially if it is damaging your relationship with your spouse, or if you have doubts about whether or not what you are doing is infidelity, seek the help of a priest or a pastoral counselor. Don't let an Internet "friendship" ruin your marriage.


  1. Interesting, I have a friend that turned to the computer and became astray because he was neglected by his partner and her addition. She became disaffectioned with him but instead of looking or sending pictures of other men or women, she filled the house with images of saints and religious personalities. Instead of locking the computer away in a secret place, she locked herself away in a room, doing rosaries and prayers and instead of staying late at night in cyberspace, she stayed late some evenings and some week ends attending church meetings and events and neglecting that she had a partner in life. Even sexual life had to be controlled under the new order.
    Well, I wonder if there is any admonition in the Catechism of the Church, for people that becomes addicted to it and change the relationship or marriage dynamics in such a big way that the other guy one day has to ask himself: Are you the same person whom I married?

  2. To Anonymous, I repeat from the article: "Ask yourself on each transaction: 'Would I send this e-mail or post this message or comment if my spouse were looking over my shoulder?' If the answer is 'no', don't do it. You should not be doing anything online that you can't tell your spouse about."

    I'm pretty sure your comment did not pass that test. What you have written is something that should be said directly to your wife, in the presence of a priest or a marriage counselor if necessary, not posted as a commentary on some blog.

  3. To previous anonymous. I am sorry if that posting has offended you but I was just trying to show that there are many reasons why couples may become disconnected and secretive with each other. Computers, religion, vices, hobbies, etc...
    I was just relaying a case that I know about from an acquaintance.
    The key to solve problems likes those, is communication and trust and openness. Especially the first, when obsessive behavior of any kind prevents good communication, then the rest is very hard. To me personally the definition of infidelity should be decided among the couple without the intervention of a third party. There are couples more liberal than other regarding this, but as long as they can communicate and agree, that’s fine.

  4. Sorry, my bad. But you seem to know an awful lot about your acquaintance's marital situation. It's too bad he's talking to you and not his wife. Wonder if she knows how he's feeling and that you're spreading their problems on the Net? Anyway, not my bizness. I only suggested a priest or counselor because it helps some people, but others would rather just suffer by themselves...