Recently, the question was posed, “is cheating online really cheating?”. At first glance, you’d have to say “Duh? You literally used the word “Cheating” twice in the question. But is it digital infidelity? On a deeper level, I suppose the real answer is “it depends on what you consider cheating”.
In the most traditional definition “cheating” is any inappropriate or unapproved thought or action of another person outside of your immediate relationship. However, the relationship model is no longer always a simple two (2) person construct. A lot has changed over the years. Previously considered “unacceptable” or “taboo”, is now common-place for many. Each of us seems to have our own sliding scale concerning the topic.
To further complicate the matter, it was once a debate over whether or not it was appropriate for the Toronto Sun to post the “Sunshine Girl” or “Sunshine Boy” in their newspaper. For many people it was considered completely normal to have a peek each day. For others, getting caught looking could result in a lengthy discussion about how they were simply curious how 25-year old Kristy was doing with her aspirations of becoming a lawyer/astronaut. Today, we are bombarded with images, videos and in some cases even unsolicited reach outs from people we never knew existed on our social media.
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Still, when it comes down to it, everybody is different and so is their personal line drawn in the sand. My personal advice to anyone starting out in a new relationship is talk talk openly with their partner(s) about what exactly is okay and not okay with them. I suggest this open communication to solve a lot of potential problems going forward. But, not everybody is comfortable discussing the topic(s) or venturing into these conversations with a new partner. Especially digital infidelity. You know you better than I know you, so, you have decide what you will or won’t discuss. Anything that bothers you on day 1 will likely still be an issue on day 1001. Still, you’ll have 1000 more days of commitments and obligations to deal with later if you can’t come to even ground.
Digital Infidelity and Lockdown
What if you’re in a relationship and everything has been “normal” but then one day you unexpectedly got locked down? Then a year later you start to realize that your partner(s) have taken up this new digital hobby? Well, my advice is still that communication is necessary to solve the dilemma. You could drop subtle hints, make rude comments, delete their social media apps, or smash their technology… But that doesn’t mean that the behaviour will stop. It will likely either increase or become “forbidden pleasure” that they feel the need to hide from you.
The European Journal of Neuroscience and Behavioral Brain Research states that when you’re in a state of restriction the restricted item becomes more rewarding. They were talking about food but the same concept applies here. If you’re denied access to something, you’ll generally feel more compelled to want to do it. This won’t necessarily make you not do it, you’ll just find ways around the rules. On the other hand, if instead of saying “No. You can’t” or applying a punishment, you actually open up and talk to your partner, you can neutrally express what it is that upsets you. Together you can discuss why it happens, and mutually figure out if there’s a solution. If you think you need a third-party to mediate or help communicate, that’s cool. Lot’s of professionals exist that can help you with that.
How to Find Out
Okay, but what if this is a deal breaker and I want to know conclusively if my partner is digitally cheating on me? What can I do to find out?
Well, if you have legal access to their technological device and/or own the device, you could have it forensically imaged and reviewed by a specialist. In many cases even deleted emails, texts, Whatsapp messages, etc. can be retrieved, documented and reported to you. Or, you could hire a PI to review their online presence in depth to see if there are any loose ends or traces of the activity. Or, you could talk to them and ask them directly. You would be surprised how often the last one results in an honest response. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you can accept that the response you get might not be the one you wanted.