He's an Internet Flirt
Q: About six months ago, I discovered that my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years was carrying on cyber relationships with various women for at least a year. He had extra e-mail accounts I hadn't known about, and some digging revealed about 20-30 names on IM and numerous e-mails of naked women. It was quite obvious he knew some of these women quite well. I chose to give him another chance, and he swore to never do it again, but I find myself still highly mistrustful. Am I correct that this is "cheating"? How can I trust that it won't transfer to an "actual" affair? -- Dawn
Dr. Susan: If you could somehow know for a fact that he would never physically touch any of these women, would you be okay with his seeing nude photos of them? Sharing intimate sexual messages with them? Hiding it all from you? I doubt it. In which case, you may as well consider these internet relationships as being one kind of affair, whether or not they go further (and they sometimes do, regardless of everyone's initial intentions). There's sexuality involved, and he lied about his behavior, and for all you know, he's still lying about it.
With any affair, it takes a long time to rebuild trust. With the internet kind, don't expect the sense of betrayal to disappear right away either, especially if all you have is his word that he won't "do it again." You need to have a frank talk about his sexual needs (and yours!), what pornography means to him, how intimate he can get with other women and still be considered faithful to you. Looking at naked pictures is one thing, and many women come to an accommodation with their mate's desire for pornography. But one-to-one personal relationships with other women, even if only online, crosses the line for many. Any activity is "cheating" if it makes one of you feel painfully left out.
Is he willing to open his computer to your inspection once or twice? For some guys, that kind of prying would be crossing their line, but you have a right to ask for some concrete action to reestablish your lost sense of trust.
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Advice for Her
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.