Addiction Addictive Behaviors Sex The Truth About Online Cheating Even if bodies never touch, you can seriously harm your relationship By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada. Learn about our editorial process Updated on February 06, 2023 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Carly Snyder, MD Medically reviewed by Carly Snyder, MD Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Mint Images / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Cheating Is Cheating Signs Causes How to Avoid It Coping Online infidelity, or cheating online, is a kind of emotional affair in which the people involved develop a sexually intimate relationship without actually meeting—what's known as cybersex. In the past, infidelity was a matter of clandestine meetings, lies about "business trips," awkward excuses about the scent of perfume on a dress shirt. Now it's possible to become involved with someone other than your spouse or partner by hooking up online. But while it may seem innocent enough—after all, you aren't in physical contact—online cheating really is just that: cheating. If you've been grappling with this question for any reason (you've been "seeing" someone over the internet or you're looking for a sexual outlet and are considering surfing around online for it), here's why you should think twice before you log on if you're married or in a committed relationship. Cheating Is Cheating, Even If It's Online People who engage in online cheating may never even see each other's faces or hear each other's voices. Without actual physical contact, then, intimacy via the internet may not seem like a real affair. However, an online affair is very much like a physical fling, one that can do lasting harm to a relationship or even an entire family. It can distract the unfaithful partner's attention from their real-life partner and children, robbing them of important time and attention and causing them to feel neglected and taken for granted. Online cheating can lead to: Loss of trustFeelings of betrayalInsecurityAngerJealousyBreakups and divorce And like traditional affairs, those that take place over the internet inevitably involve secrecy and lies that have the potential to destroy the trust that's necessary to hold a relationship together. Even if the person being cheated on never discovers what's been going on behind his or her back, the bond of trust is broken when a spouse or partner is unfaithful. People having affairs also tend to get angry with their real-life partners, which can lead to further hurt. Signs of Cheating Online If you are concerned that you or your partner might be engaging in online infidelity, there are some signs of cheating online to watch for. A few you might notice include: Spending a lot of time on their phone or on the computerIncreased distance between you and your partnerSudden changes in behaviorLying or defensiveness when they try to talk about their concernsChanging passwords on shared accountsMoving computers or other devices to secluded locations in the houseClearing search history oftenRefusing to let the other person see their phone or computer screen It is important to remember that everyone needs privacy and that it is not necessary for people to share everything about themselves with their partners. However, sudden changes in behavior and obvious efforts to hide online activity are a reason for concern. If you feel that you need to hide your online behavior and interactions from your partner, it might be a sign that you need to evaluate your online relationships and how they might be affecting your relationship with your partner. Signs Your Spouse Is Having an Online Affair Causes of Cheating Online There are a variety of factors that can contribute to online infidelity. While such relationships might initially start off as harmless, they can shift over time. Some factors that can contribute to cheating online include: A desire to escape from realityUnderlying relationship problemsWanting to pursue certain fantasiesAvoiding distress caused by the relationshipPoor communication and lack of trustSelf-esteem issues Once two people begin having cybersex, they can quickly and easily get carried away. Some people even become addicted to online sex, which adds another dimension of difficulty to the situation. For a person addicted to cybersex, time spent in front of a computer or screen will likely take up more and more free time, leaving less time and attention for spouse or partner, and family. Another danger of cybersex is that the two people engaging in the affair decide to meet in person. At that point, of course, online infidelity can become physical infidelity, which takes cheating to a different level. Is Watching Porn Cheating? How to Avoid Cheating Online If you are concerned that you or your partner may engage in online cheating, there are steps you can take to help you avoid potential problems. Talk to your partner about your expectationsCreate boundaries when it comes to online relationshipsSet boundaries for social media, computer, and phone usageOnly talk to your friends onlineDon't keep secrets from your partnerDiscuss your online behavior with your partnerStay off of dating sitesSpend more quality time with your partnerTurn off digital distractions to focus on your relationship How to Cope With Cheating Online It's important to keep in mind that online infidelity, like real-life infidelity, is often a sign that there are problems in a relationship and so ending an online affair may not be enough to put the incident to rest or prevent it from happening again. Communicate With Your Partner Rather than turning to the internet to try to find happiness or whatever you feel might be missing from your current relationship, talk to your spouse or partner. Accept Responsibility If you have engaged in cheating online, take responsibility for your behavior. Acknowledge your actions and accept the hurt that you have caused. Recognize that it will take work on your part to earn back your partner's trust. Address Underlying Issues It is also important to consider the underlying issues that might contribute to online infidelity. Communication and trust issues in your relationship might play a role, but underlying mental health concerns including anxiety, depression, and poor self-esteem might also be factors. Talk to a Professional Consider couples counseling or therapy for yourself if you can't seem to stop engaging in sexually compulsive behavior. You will save your loved ones from being deeply hurt and yourself from living with guilt or shame. It is possible to save your relationship if there has been online infidelity, but it takes work. Accepting responsibility for actions, doing the work to change, improving communication, and seeking professional help are important steps you can take. A Word From Verywell Cheating online can be every bit as serious as traditional infidelity. If you are concerned that you or your partner are engaging in online cheating or having an emotional affair, it is important to take steps to address the problem and repair the relationship. Setting boundaries around online interactions, communicating with your partner, and talking to a couple's therapist are strategies that can help you heal from online infidelity. Best Online Couples Therapy and Counseling of 2023 4 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Adam A. Perceptions of infidelity: A comparison of sexual, emotional, cyber-, and parasocial behaviors. Interpers Int J Pers Relatsh. 2019;13(2):237-252. doi:10.5964/ijpr.v13i2.376 American Psychological Association. Are internet affairs different? American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Online Infidelity. Laier C, Pawlikowski M, Pekal J, Schulte FP, Brand M. Cybersex addiction: Experienced sexual arousal when watching pornography and not real-life sexual contacts makes the difference. J Behav Addict. 2013;2(2):100-107. doi:10.1556/JBA.2.2013.002 By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.