This blog is for anyone who is interested in psychology and well being. It will tackle questions about how therapy works and what are the differences between various approaches to therapy. I will be looking at key factors that help families and couples stay happy and connected with each other and will also look at some of the major stresses of life, offering thoughts on the pitfalls to be avoided.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Reality of Virtual Adultery.

Have you or your partner ever flirted or indulged in sex with another individual?Have you ever watched porn over the internet or developed an intimate relationship online with someone you have never met?
Lately, I seem to be getting more and more referrals of couples reporting virtual adultery. This seems to coincide with a swathe of new communication technologies. It seems that it has never been easier to have an affair.
If you have ever been negatively affected by these issues, then this article is aimed at helping you to make sense of feelings that you might be experiencing. It will highlight some effects of virtual adultery and will flag up some of obstacles for couples in staying together after an affair.
If you belong to a couple affected by cyber adultery then this post may bring up discomfort and a host of other emotions. No matter what your role or stake in it has been, reading this will take some courage. You have done enough to make it this far.

Why are virtual affairs becoming so common?
We live in a communication age. A quick search on Google demonstrates how easy it has become to initiate a sexual or flirtatious encounter with someone you have never met. Advancing technology now means that these liaisons can occur at any time of day or in virtually any place.
Communication technologies bring with them the ability to conceal or misrepresent one’s identity. The anonymity that this affords enables one to explore aspects of one’s sexuality that would ordinarily not be expressed.
It enables people to indulge in powerful fantasies. They can be whatever they want to be: tall, slim, attractive, considerate, and supportive. Online, these identities are worn like a second skin and have the power to be utterly convincing.
The intoxication of these fantasies can be highly addictive. It has even been suggested that hyper-stimulation during cyber sex, interacts directly with the pleasure pathways to the brain increasing vulnerability to sexual addiction.

Discovery of the Affair
Internet affairs cannot be hidden forever and it is often the graphic details of a sexual encounter that get discovered first.
Some have likened this experience to trauma. Trauma is associated with the experience of a life-threatening situation. It is argued that, a close bond with a life partner is an advantage for survival and that adultery puts this bond at risk.
This argument offers an explanation for the experience of depression, anxiety, or the sense of betrayal that some feel after the revelation of an affair. 
Flashbacks to the moment of discovery can occur without warning. Individuals may be plagued by obsessive and distressing thoughts and images and become hyper-vigilant for signs of further betrayal.
The ease with which the adultery took place; the manner in which it was concealed; and the level of intensity of the adulterous relationship can pose problems. How can one compete with a virtual rival? What assurances can be given that it will not happen again? What assurances can be believed?
For the one who has been unfaithful, there may be guilt, shame, depression anxiety. There may be fear of losing an important relationship, either with one's spouse or the adultery partner. Paradoxically, there may be relief because the need for secrecy is now over.
The Effects on Your Couple
It is not hard to imagine the strain that can be put upon a couple once a virtual affair has been revealed. It is possible that the affair has unleashed a Pandora’s box of blame, criticism, denial and minimization.
In the aftermath of the discovery, both sides of the couple may blame and criticize each other for what has gone wrong. They may minimized each other’s feelings or minimize the effect that this has had on the other.
For the one feeling betrayed it is understandable if hurt ends up expressed as rage. For the one who has been having the affair, it might feel like they are going to be punished for the rest of their life. They may try to limit the hurt by denying that this was a real affair. They may use distance to avoid further attacks.
The mixed emotions faced by both sides in the relationship can create a roller coaster ride leaving neither one nor the other feeling hopeful or safe to seek comfort in their relationship.
Rebuilding the Relationship
The following suggestions are intended as guides. It may be hard to avoid opening that Pandora’s box of blame, criticism, denial and minimization. If this is the case, an individual or couple therapist might be helpful:
Establish Safety
It is important to understand how this affair has affected both of you. The more you can show that you acknowledge and understand the consequences of what has happened, the more safe you both will feel.
Remember, those who feel betrayed have one of the hardest tasks. It is understandable to feel ambivalent about the relationship. Unfortunately, the more you express this as blame and criticism, the more anxiety and distance gets created in the couple.
An important factor in easing your anxiety and hurt is the establishment of clear boundaries. This means finding ways of making sure that the affair is over.
It will also mean being clear about whether or not and how to reestablish a physical relationship with each other.

Establish Communication
Only once safety in your couple has been established, can you begin to address the factors in your relationship that led up to this. The following questions might help to guide your conversations with each other:
  • · Have either of you recently experienced a difficult transition such as the bereavement of a loved one or change in life? How has your couple supported you through this?
  • · Is there any buried anger or hidden resentment that either of you have not been addressing?
  • · Do you find it hard to approach the other person for comfort, warmth or support?
  • · Do you ever feel criticized, blamed, undermined, misunderstood or forgotten?
  • · Do you feel comfortable in your own skin?
  • · Are you satisfied with your sex life?
It can be hard to move on from an affair. However, couples that do manage to do this report feeling stronger in their relationships as a result. Don’t forget that there are a number of experienced therapists out there to help, should you get stuck.
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