The dangerous slide into an internet affair
by Dr. Dave Currie
The key word is fantasy. More and more of us are living there it seems these days. It’s the world of romantic make-believe – especially online – where we imagine we are loved, respected and pursued in our inner dramas in ways we haven’t been for a long time in our marriages. We envy and aspire to what we see in other’s relationships and bemoan what we have in ours.
The following is the “inside unravelling” of one women’s story. We see her heart and confusion through her entanglement into an extra-marital affair online. She volunteered to tell her story to me with all her inner processing in an attempt to warn others. I respect her for that. Names and details are withheld to maintain privacy. Here’s her story – for the most part, in her own words:
“I knew we needed counselling but my husband wouldn’t go. Yet face it, if you want to get help you can, even if it starts with you alone. I knew I had a struggling marriage. Our 20-year relational abyss had long separated us. We were mere roommates. We’d quit trying.”
“I knew we needed counselling but my husband wouldn’t go.
“When in public, I knew I could still catch the looks and the attention of other men. That felt good. I started to like being noticed and began to feed off it. Flirting became fun. Even a friend commented that she noticed I was enjoying getting noticed maybe too much. Being out in the public fishing for a man’s interest was growing more dangerous. Getting real attention was getting far too enticing. Inside, I was afraid I might do something stupid. I easily could have.”
“Complicating my inner dissatisfaction were the huge changes that took place in me because I had to have a hysterectomy. That was a big deal for me. My hormones were all over the map. It was 6 months of hell both emotionally and physically. I was whacked in the head totally violating the values I had long stood for. It made me really insecure and needy. The emotional affair started 6 weeks after the operation.”
“Our kids, adults now, had moved out and I lost my long-standing identity as a mother. Further disorientation came when we suddenly sold our house, the home we raised our children in. Roots gone. Kids gone. The empty nest gave me so much extra time. My husband was away with work most of the time. I could pretty much do what I wanted. I felt empty, lost and alone.”
“The problems in our marriage weren’t going away but getting worse. I felt neglected. My frustrations weren’t worthy of being addressed to him. Inside, I felt lonely, rejected and deprived. My husband would never leave me but was too busy with work to notice my needs. Our marriage was going to stay status quo”
“Because of this dangerous relational instability within, I felt safer to stay at home. So I started playing online games – in my case “Hearts”. It was there that I started conversing, bantering, teasing, talking, engaging…it was there where my Internet affair really began.”
“In my boredom and new time freedoms, I started to chat online more and more with the other card players. The connecting was so slow at first. One guy though had similar thinking to me. Talking was effortless. I could sense him getting interested in me. I felt alive and pursued. It seemed quite harmless.
“He became my regular card partner. I enjoyed our times playing together. There were lots of fun one-liners. I grew more curious about him. He too, was emotionally empty as his wife had recently left him.”
“I found myself stretching my story a bit to be more attractive to him. You see, online, I could lie some – embellish a bit – not a lot, just to keep a positive spin on things.
“What really drew me in was that he was having problems with his 2 daughters due to the separation and wanted my input. At the core, I am a nurturer and a motherer. I loved giving helpful advice. He asked if I would talk to one of his daughters and of course before I did that, I had to talk to him.”
“That phone call took the relationship to a new level.”
“It was no longer just words on a screen – I could hear the tone, the warmth and the interest. It was so flattering to be needed and wanted. I hadn’t felt that in a long time. I loved that he and his girls desired my input and valued me. Here I was listened to. My worth was validated.”
“That phone call took the relationship to a new level.”
“I am relationally driven but I had a husband who was not. I didn’t feel as though I was needed or wanted by him. When you begin daydreaming about the possibilities, you are in a danger zone. Fantasy only magnifies the negative aspects of the marital void you are in. Your spouse gets more ‘unlikeable’. You see their mistakes clearly and more often. At least that’s what happened to me.”
“My experience is that an affair is so subtle. It’s like a glass of water with a small drop of food colouring. At first, you don’t even notice the water has a blue hue – it’s so slow and gradual –drip-by-drip. Then one day – you stand back and look and the water is blue and you wonder how on earth did you get into this mess.”
“As crazy as it sounds with all that I shared, I still felt safe because this new friend lived in another location – over 2 thousand miles away.”
“But for me, the deep need to be pursued and cherished is like female porn. I obsessed over the new connection like the first crush of a dizzy teenager in High School. This self-indulgent imagination driven by the need to be wanted casts a positive spin on the fling and throws more doubt on the marriage ever working. I began to possibility think. I visualized the fantasy until it seemed more plausible than my reality.”
It was then that I bought my plane ticket…
“Really? You say. You bought tickets to fly and meet this guy? What happened, you ask? Did you follow through?”
“Here’s what stopped me in my tracks – literally on my way to the airport.”
“A good friend who I had confided my heart to through this whole thing, asked me, ‘Have you ever thought you would see yourself here in this situation 5 years ago?’ I thought – NEVER! She also asked me, ‘Can you see the implications of what this decision brings you 5 years from now? Splitting up the kids at Christmas, leaving your husband, and likely moving away from family?”
“I had a choice to make once I saw things for what they were. I could get on that plane and I close the door to a complicated marriage all the while losing so much of what truly matters to me. Or I could put on the brakes, give my head a shake and seek to rebuild all that we had lost.”
“I believe it was more than a friend’s challenging words that stopped me in my tracks. I believe God stepped in to wake me up to the realities of what this next step would bring. By the way, never wonder if the enemy of our souls is not after the destruction of every marriage and family. I know he was after mine.”
What a powerful and riveting look at the inner workings of an emotional affair! I am grateful for my friend’s courage in baring her soul on the unravelling within. Let’s see if I can guide us through to some helpful insights that might prevent you from an online relational collapse.
First off, let’s review the story of the online affair and see if we can’t note a few danger points that weren’t heeded.
DANGER 1 was letting the marriage slide for 20 years putting the kids and work before your time together. It’s always better to get help sooner if you feel the disconnect growing. Keep your relationship priority. Keep the love growing.
DANGER 2 is to feed your mind with TV shows like OC, Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, Sex in the City and Desperate Housewives. You got the idea. Your morals erode through the questionable movies you watch and the negative company you keep. They all foster the same dissatisfaction in your marriage and a justification of a self-centered, self-indulgent fantasy world beyond our mate.
DANGER 3 is when you brood over the marital void and rehearse the loss and emptiness with no sense of boundary. Here you magnify the emptiness in the marriage and deny the likelihood of recovery. Stop making it worse. Put a limit to complaining that isn’t constructive.
DANGER 4 is when you start keeping secrets about outside relationships. Withholding the truth about your activities both online and in person will destroy your marriage. People in your world need to be friends of both of you or neither of you.
DANGER 5 is to live in the fantasy that the other “new” person can meet all your needs with minimal consequences. That simply isn’t true. The fantasy is never reality. Further, when we nurture the fantasy in an unbridled and unrestrained passion, we magnify the enchantment and embellish the possibility. Inside it just feels right. It’s a lie.
DANGER 6 is to live without agreeing to a clear set of interaction limits with those outside the marriage. Remember: an affair doesn’t start in the door of a bedroom but rather in the window of your mind. You think it before you do it. Develop healthy relational boundaries as wise perimeters for marital protection.
Let me close reminding you how an affair happens, hopefully in an attempt to keep you from going there. A BROKEN MARRIAGE needs addressing. The answer isn’t finding someone new. It is pressing in to rekindle love and talking openly with your spouse about the emotional and physical needs that aren’t being met.
If you refuse to re-engage in each other’s lives, a VACANCY gradually sets in and you live day-to-day disconnected and uninvolved. You are roommates at best. Your spouse has checked out.
With the loss of contact and interest, a VOID grows where closeness once was. This is a nagging emptiness of not feeling wanted or pursued or valued. This barrenness rots our souls as we long to be loved.
The lack of time connecting with your mate and the disconnect of your hearts leave you oh so VULNERABLE. Any caring person can easily catch your eye.
Remember in the story we just read, it’s the fantasizing that really draws you away. When you start to VISUALIZE being with the other personal, things ramp up fast.
When you VERBALIZE your interest in the other person, either to a close friend or directly to the target of curiosity, you have now actively started to welcome in someone new.
All that remains is for you to seal the deal by getting involved romantically, affectionately or sexually The marital VIOLATION is this step toward the other person.
To all as I close, guard your heart. Work to stay connected with your spouse. God will anchor you through this journey – even in the rough spots. I’d love to hear from you if you find yourself in a dark place in your marriage. Connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.