More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
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.


A very interesting report and one that is very big today.
I have a friend who just flew all the way to a different country to meet up with such a person. In this case, there was no cheating involved because she was single but the fact she did it in the first place indicates that these relationships are very real and very strong.
I would have to vote on the side that it is in fact cheating.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
dmcgill said:
I have a friend who just flew all the way to a different country to meet up with such a person. In this case, there was no cheating involved because she was single but the fact she did it in the first place indicates that these relationships are very real and very strong.
I have had a number of clients involved in internet relationships, most of them ultimately not very successful (although I recognize that the succesful ones aren't likely to be coming to see me so yes, it is a biased sample).

These relationships are certainly real to the participants. One of the potential problems is that it isn't easy to really learn about a person on the net - although it can seem that you have learned everything you need to know, all you have really learned is what the other person wants you to know. It is like a vivid fantasy come true and in many cases the participants don't truly find out who their chosen partner is until they do meet in person - and by that time, they may have left other relationships or even committed to marriage...


I find in my practice that many relationships that are built on line, with email, chat lines, video cams etc, create very very strong feelings much quicker than relationships that are built in a traditional way. People will get to know other people quicker through the written word than verbal words, face to face because they feel safe sitting in front of their computer in their own home. No need to put the make up on, no need to get all fancy, just me and my love on the computer.

This isn't a new thing, just faster. Thousands of mail order brides came over to North America early in the 20th century. It would take two weeks for a letter to cross the Atlantic but the relationships grew to the point that one day, the bride would pick up and leave, moving to a new world to start life in a new relationship. Can you imagine the fear? Many never saw their families again and lived long happy lives here.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
You have a point, although I suspect that many mail-order-bride relationships weren't all that rosy either... it was more difficult to end a marriage in those days.

But I'm not trying to say that relationships which begin online are necessarily bad, anymore than those which begin in a singles bar are all bad.


Online relationship

You can meet great people on online chats and have great relationships, but if i look at the beginning of this note it was talking about views on what is accepted or not.

I wonder what people think are acceptable when it comes to chatting. I have been with my boyfriend for 8 months now and recently i had the gut instinct to go check on lavalife and saw that he was last online on April 27th. It felt like a dagger in the heart, why, because i felt betrayed. We had this conversation once, but he said he goes to check it once in a while for curiosity and just to chat. I feel that maybe if you went on the dating section and said just looking for chat friends it would be acceptable, but i am starting to wonder if keeping your profile on relationship and continuing to verify it everyday will lead to a problem. I have my profile created since 2yrs ago on relationship, but i dont access it to see who is emailing me when i am in a relationship! pls provide me with your opinion

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Your boyfriend may be having some doubts or questions about the relationship - and viewing other profiles at LavaLife as a way of trying to help him answer those questions. In a new relationship, I think it is normal and probably even a good thing to have questions or doubts from time to time - after all, you don't want to commit to a relationship you're not sure about and you probably don't want to be in a relationship with someone who isn't sure s/he wants to be there.

Chatting online with other people is also not necessarily a sign of betrayal or infidelity, any more than chatting with friends by phone or in person. On the other hand, chatting to people on a dating service is, I agree, somewhat different - presumably most people who are there are looking for a date or relationship.

If or when you and your boyfriend get to the point where you are ready to make a commitment to each other, deleting your profiles at LavaLife could be be one way of "announcing" that commitment, sort of a public statement that you are both in a committed relationship.

I get the strong impression that both of you have doubts and issues with trust in this relationship. You say, "I have my profile created since 2yrs ago on relationship, but i dont access it to see who is emailing me when i am in a relationship!" - note that here you are saying that you don't check the service when you are in a relationship, but you also keep the profile active... If you think about this, it suggests that in case the current relationship doesn't work out, this makes it easy for you to go back and look for someone else. Is your boyfriend doing sort of the same thing in a way? Harville Hendrix, author of Getting The Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, would call this "keeping exits open", meaning that in a sense you are both "leaving the door open to leave the relationship if it doesn't work" - Hendrix suggests that people who are serious about trying to make a relationship work need to close those exit doors.

I think perhaps you both need to discuss how you feel about being in a committed relationship and in particular this one, and whether you would both feel more "in the relationship" if those exit doors were closed - and then talk about how each of you feels about closinng those LavaLife accounts.
internet relationships

I am having the same problem with my fiance, the first time he said he didn't do it. This weekend I found him on a dating site and I was upset, again he said he didn't do it. Now today (I found this out Thursday, Today Monday) he has changed his password to his account. It's a bit sketchy, when I confronted him about it of course he threw the whole you don't trust me you were going through my e-mails yadda yadda, and has maintained his "innocence" through me, I don't fight it I know he did it, but now the changing of the password scares me to be honest with you. I just don't know what to do anymore. HELP!

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Did you meet your fiance online, Kelly?

You're right, of course - the issue of how you found out he was on the dating site is irrelevant to the question of why he was there, or why he even has an account there. And his denial followed by changing his password isn't exactly reassuring either.

On the other hand, I assume something triggered your suspicions in the first place. I suspect there are other things going on that are less than ideal in this relationship and it is probably wise for the two of you to address them and try to resolve them BEFORE the wedding rather than after.
I met my fiance online yes,

As I talk to my friends I am getting different opinions on the whole subject. Some say to talk to him about the whole changing of his password and others say well you shouldn't have gone through it in the first place etc. So I've said nothing, but it does bother me, I think maybe he is doing it to teach me a point?! I am not sure, there really isn't to much going on except the tid bit of information I recieved from his brother, he was telling me that after his wife left him (he found out she was cheating on him) that he hasn't been the same since, that he has been and always will be in the back of his mind worried that I may cheat on him, even though he knows I would never do that. I worry about him and him thinking about that, his brother also told me that he is most likley doing it to "get an ego boost" because he has never been the same since the divorce. I knew he was doing drugs after he got divorced and he has this weekend wanted to try some more again, I told him go ahead it isn't my body but this is all something to think about. I am just not sure what to do, he does not seem overly affectionate or away from me he's just still the same guy I've been with since the beginning I just don't know what to do. I did go on his e-mail account because I just check he did it once to me and I hadn't checked it in OVER 6 months. I found it and yea well you know the rest of the story. I am lost here! Your advice please.


Hi Kelly,
I wish you the best... :)...
I noticed this, reading your introduction last night... but I didn't feel it was my place to comment on it then...
But sometimes you and I can trust our instincts...

Hi everyone,
My name is Kelly I'm 19, I have anxiety and I am engaged to my fiance

I don't know if you see what I saw...

stuff can be worked through, if both of you are willing...

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Sammy makes a good point: you have at least two things going on here: anxiety and relationships issues, with trust probably being a big part of both and self-esteem (on both sides) probably aggravating the situation.

If I stand back and try to look very objectively at what you're saying here, Boydsbrslover, I get this:

1. you don't trust your boyfriend - perhaps this is because of things that have happened to you before you met him or perhaps you're reacting to something you see in his behavior, but either way it's hard to see this evolving into a strong and fulfilling relationship unless that part is addresses.

2. your boyfriend may not trust (or respect?) women in general, including you, again either because of what happened in his previous marriage or because he is reacting to something going on in this one (or both): again, the two of you need to address this if you are serious about getting married - BEFORE you get married, preferably.

3. your boyfriend is not affectionate toward you: this is unlikely to change spontaneously so you need to ask yourself (a) can I be happy in a relationship with a man who is not affectionate? or (b) is it likely that we can resolve and change this aspect of our relationship in couples counseling (again before the wedding preferably)?

4. your boyfriend seems happier ("his old self") when he is away from you than when he is with you: now this doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't love you but it certainly is a large red flag that there is something going on in this relationship that he isn't happy about.

5. the fact that he still has an account with an online dating service could mean many things - however, whatever it means, you can't just sweep it under the rug and hope the issue will go away on its own: it won't.

Get a referral to a reputable couples counselor in your area if you can. If not, see whether the minister/priest/pastor in your local church has any background in pastoral counseling. Or talk to your family doctor about what programs might be available in your area.

If your fiance won't go with you, go on your own. But let him know that his unwillingness to make an effort to resolve the issues in your relationship is not a good sign for his readiness or suitability for marriage. And let him know this is not about blaming him, any more than it's about blaming you. If there are problems in this relationship (and it seems evident there are) then they are problems that the two of you as a couple need to address and resolve - trying to argue about whose fault it is is pointless.
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