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Pitfalls of virtual infidelity

Extramarital affairs are no longer restricted to a steamy encounter in a hotel room. Technology has made it easy for people to get away with cheating

Manuel Ntoyai @manuel_ntoyai

There was a time when extramarital affairs were wrapped in a secretive blanket and remained a clandestine steam rendezvous between two people.

With the advent of the Internet, infidelity has morphed into extramarital affairs between people who are not in the same room, but share a deep steamy relationship that is emotionally involving and a threat to a marriage just as a physical relationship is.

No longer does one need to physically meet with his or her partner as technology has made it possible for people to connect and indulge in extramarital affairs virtually. This involves intimate chat sessions and sexually stimulating conversations.

For Mark Kamau (not his real name), youthful behaviour of having multiple partners slipped into his six-year-old relationship.

“I used to be a player and when I finally thought of settling with someone, I vowed never to cheat on her.  I remained true to my commitment. However, with time, I started chatting with other girls and former girlfriends. At first, it was just chatting but before I knew it, we were sexting. I told myself I wasn’t actually cheating, but just playing mind games with the girls,” he intimates.

He discovered the virtual relationship had gone too far when he stopped concentrating on his relationship and found himself chatting way into the wee hours of the night.

“My girlfriend who was pregnant with our first child noticed this and when she asked me, I got angry and abusive. It got to a point where we were having sex over the Internet with strangers I have never met. We would even exchange nudes and videos of each other masturbating,” he says.

When his girlfriend caught him masturbating while Skyping with another girl, it marked the end of the relationship. 

There are tell-tale signs that a relationship is in danger as a result of virtual cheating, says Arthur Muriuki, a psychologist. 

“When someone suspects his or her partner is involved in virtual cheating, at first it is hard to point it out. While there are common indicators such as your partner spending more time with their devices such as laptops, phones and tablets, new passwords and clean inboxes, one cannot immediately conclude their partner is cheating,” he says.

According to Arthur, the regular conversations between the two parties online will create a bond that is built on fantasy, making it more appealing to the persons involved. This has been made more practicable because internet cheating is based on three ‘A’s—Accessibility, Affordability and Anonymity.

“Usually in the real relationship, complacency might crop up and the things that the couple used to do such as chatting or even going on romantic dates, cease to exist and the relationship becomes dull. On the other hand, the online partner becomes more interesting and the relationship becomes more rewarding. They can meet anywhere and almost anytime. This creates a fantasy for the brain to live in and might even extend to the online couple going for online dates as they neglect their real partners,” he adds.

While they might not physically meet for sex or anything closer, online cheating has been deemed to be more damaging than the physical relationship. According to experts, online cheating cause emotional abuse, which is more damaging than physical abuse.

Online dating helps the cheating partner to mask the real self and only present their best version, unlike in a physical relationship where one has to deal with real life issues.

“During this period, the person will neglect their family and invest in the virtual relationship, by giving their time and even money as it is more endearing. On the other hand, the actual relationship becomes repulsive,”  says Arthur.  Neglect and abandoning of responsibilities in a relationship leads to emotional abuse and when one lacks interest in the other, they drift apart causing  an emotional rift.

While there is a notion that old (read mature) people are not involved in viirtual relationships, the opposite is true.

“The older generation might not be tech-savvy as the younger ones, but we live in a world where they are deemed as sponsors and an escape route from poverty. This has led to marriages breaking and young people risking their health,” says Arthur.

With the rise of online sexual predators, a worrying trend is emerging where people are conned into spending their time and money in false relationships and the victims end up blaming dating sites.

Family lawyer Anne Mbugua of Musyimi and Company Advocates explains that cases of virtual infidelity are now gaining prominence in divorce courts.

“\Abandonment, lack of interest or being absent emotionally, at times leads to actual adultery, which leads to divorce due to irreconcilable differences,” she says.

In the past three years, Anne has handled about four cases where pornography was the main cause for divorce.

“Women invest a lot into relationships, especially emotionally and in online cheating there is a lot of comparison between the real and the virtual relationship. When the mind is already distorted, it is easier for one to leave the relationship just like one can close a browsing page and open an new one,” she says.

According to her, cases of online cheating are indicators of symptoms and sicknesses in marriages, which mask bigger underlying issues.

“These cases are common with young couples as they are ready to divorce without going deeper into the problem. Previous experiences and old habits such as sexting and masturbating might affect a marriage,” she adds.

Ann advises there is need to sound alarm as young people are getting sexualised early, especially with the advent of social media.

“This is a war that we must fight from all levels. From the family to the government, there is need for Internet control to help reduce the number of those falling victims to this menace,” she concludes.

The big question, however, is whether one can use virtual cheating as grounds for seeking for a divorce.

“When we drafted the Marriage Bill in 2014, we did no include virtual cheating when seeking grounds for divorce. However, one can rely on exceptional depravity, desertion or irreconcilable differences,” says Anne.

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