Internet Relationships As Damaging as Real-Life Affairs
Sat 17 Apr 2004
By John von Radowitz
Science Correspondent, PA News
An internet relationship can be as damaging to partnerships as cheating in real life, new research showed today.
People tend to view on-line intimacy as infidelity, even though sex may not be involved, a new study has found.
Psychologist Dr Monica Whitty, from Queen’s University, Belfast, asked 245 students to complete stories in which one partner from a couple develops a relationship over the internet.
More than half the stories represented the “betrayer” as being unfaithful, while 84% portrayed the “victim” partner feeling betrayed.
Women were more likely than men to see “emotional infidelity” as the reason why an internet affair counted as cheating. They were also more likely to see internet infidelity as damaging to a real-life relationship.
The most frequently stated reason for why internet intimacy was an act of infidelity was that it was wrong to have a romantic relationship with more than one person.
However not all the participants agreed on the morals of internet relationships.
In 27% of the stories, the “betrayer” did not believe that he or she had been unfaithful. A further 22% of participants either did not present the betrayer’s point of view or were unclear.
Dr Whitty said: “There were some who didn’t see an internet relationship as an act of betrayal, and that might be worth considering, because in a real situation it might be that one party doesn’t think he or she is doing anything wrong.
“When we look at off-line affairs, we know what the rules are, that you mustn’t have sexual intercourse. But here it’s not so clear; a person might think it’s not real because it’s on a computer.
“I think it has the potential to be damaging to people’s relationships.”
Dr Whitty now plans to investigate how internet affairs affect real-life couples by interviewing people undergoing relationship counselling.