Last spring I was part of this great panel of professionals who discussed the pros and cons of how the Internet has effected our relationships. At the end of the hour, I was asked to give a few tips for couples who wanted to affair-proof their Internet use.
“Really,” I said. “It just boils down to a big dose of common sense.”
To avoid an online affair the three main areas to pay close attention to are:
1) Content & Activity. Be confident that whatever you are doing on the Internet, it would be OK with your partner. If you quickly shut the cover to your laptop when your partner walks in the room, you better be purchasing his surprise birthday present (which he would clearly approve) and not ‘chatting’ with Thor, your hot boyfriend from college who thinks you are divorced.
People may object saying they are entitled to their privacy. We do have a right to our privacy, this is true. But in a committed relationship we also have the responsibility of being accountable.
2) Time. If you think you may be spending too much time on the Internet then you are.
We do everything online, shopping, finding recipes for dinner, watching TV reruns, catching up with friends, blogging (!) which makes budgeting time on our computers, iPads and smartphones quite a challenge. If your partner complains about the amount of time you are online, talk to him about it. If he spends every waking moment online, talk to him about it! Negotiate.
Make time for eye to eye, tête á tête, conversation. As hard as that is, do it! BEing together unplugged and offline is essential for your relationship, like air. Cook a meal together. Go out on a date. Go for a walk. Listen to music. Dance. Take a nap together. Do some serious cuddling. Anything that turns your attention away from the Internet and back on your flesh and blood primary relationship.
3) Privacy. Couples need a cone of silence if they are to thrive. Keep arguments, disappointments, frustrations with your partner off the Internet and out of anyone else’s business. Never complain, whine or in any way post anything negative about your partner on your Facebook wall or anywhere online. If you are angry with him have the courtesy to tell him to his face.
With privacy you build intimacy. Intimacy is a hallmark of a happy relationship. Intimacy is earned over time and is founded on trust. It is a delicate thing, like a candle flame. Intimacy cannot be expected to survive the hurricane winds of the Internet without protection and nurturing.
If you are flirting, or going further, with people online do not think it is hidden. The immediacy and accessibility of the Internet plus the fact that we usually interact with it while alone, gives us the misguided impression of privacy when it is painfully the opposite. People like Chris Lee, former U.S. Congressman, learned that fact the hard way.
If it is too difficult to follow any of these suggestions and you really want to keep your relationship intact, talk to your partner directly about your struggles. Then consider getting help, either together or just for yourself, before you go too far.