When Spouses Go Astray Online


The husband, pretending to be single, had gotten involved in online romances with a number of women. When one female Internet partner took him up on his invitation to come to his hometown, the man panicked and confessed to his wife.

"The wife, who was shaken to the core, felt compassion for this other woman and got her a place to stay overnight," says relationships expert and author Peggy Vaughan of La Jolla. She says the couple then started to deal with their damaged marriage.

"I could go on and on," says the marital consultant, who learned of the incident from the distraught wife, who contacted Vaughan on her Web site (http://www.vaughan-vaughan.com), which focuses on extramarital relations.

"Online affairs have become so commonplace and typical, I can almost write the script," says Vaughan, noting that her Web site is flooded with letters from spouses lamenting their partners' Internet infidelities.

"In fact, people have been known to risk it all by leaving their partner before they meet the person in the flesh," she says.

Internet affairs often precipitate divorce, according to Washington, D.C., divorce attorney Sanford Ain.

"When people have experienced a breach of trust, whether it is Internet-related [or not], very few can reconcile their differences," Ain says. "Both have to be highly motivated. Once in a while you feel good that someone has reconciled, but it's rare."

The Internet seems to be the second most common way of meeting people and having affairs, says psychologist Debbie Layton-Tholl of Boca Raton, Fla. The workplace is still the most popular meeting ground.

Layton-Tholl bases her belief on 800 questionnaires she's collected online.

Psychotherapist Kurt Sperling says about 6% of his clients consult him about relationship issues stemming from the Internet. While the scenarios play out differently, there are often similarities, he says.

Sperling says usually one partner is not home during the Internet interplay, but sometimes the deceived partner is preoccupied in another room or has gone to sleep while the spouse is online.

"Typically what I've seen is that people are drawn to chat rooms for any number of reasons--because they may think they share common interests with other people or because they are bored and are looking for something to do," he says. "Sometimes people are drawn to chat rooms because they are unhappy in their lives, and it makes them feel like they're worthy of attention."

When deceived partners find out about the online activity, Sperling says, the reactions are much the same: " You've been talking to that person every night when I go to sleep, and I thought you were working on our bills!"

And home is not the only place where deception takes place. People often flirt at work through e-mail, says Layton-Tholl.

"When people talk to me about their experience on the Internet and tell me 'I'm in love, he's my soul mate,' it's incredible," Layton-Tholl says. "They are talking about passion that I can only imagine having in an intimate contact, with somebody, and they are having this in electronic communications, never having seen or touched this individual. These are mature adults, married people with kids, with responsible jobs, and they are changing their lives because of what starts out as a fantasy."

And fantasy is what makes these Internet affairs unique, says Baltimore, Md., psychologist Shirley Glass, who writes also has a relationship column on the Web.

People only reveal a part of themselves on the Internet, which leads to a romantic image, based on illusion, she says.

"You don't have to have physical contact to have an affair," she says. "The thing it has in common is the secrecy, the emotional intimacy and the sexual chemistry."

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