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Digital affairs, and the danger of technology to marriages 


We often talk about ‘safeguarding’ children in relation to digital technology, but perhaps we don’t think so much about safeguarding our marriages too. By Katharine Hill, UK Director of Care for the Family

Digital technology marriage

As a family lawyer and in my work with Care for the Family, I’ve met many people who have had affairs. Often they’ve told me they never intended to be unfaithful to their partners; somehow it just happened. The truth is that in many ways, it’s easier than ever to slip into a relationship outside of marriage. Digital technology has increased the opportunity and people are now having ‘virtual affairs via their chat app of choice. A smartphone in the pocket is all that’s needed to make it happen.

One husband discovered that his wife had been chatting to a married father of three on WhatsApp several times a week. They were engaging in intimate conversation and exchanging explicit photographs, all while he was at work or asleep next to her in bed. Opinion is divided as to whether a virtual affair is the real deal, but it does involve the same emotions – secrecy, excitement, fantasy, rationalisation and denial of consequences. And although the online experience is enough for some people, for most it’s not. Unsurprisingly, it often leads to a desire to meet in real life. So while the internet may have blurred the lines, affairs of the heart – virtual or otherwise – continue to destroy trust and destroy marriages.

As well as the potential for online affairs, digital technology can also have a negative effect on the quality of a marriage. All relationships depend on communication, openness and sharing, but the amount of time that many of us spend on social media and other digital platforms means that we invest much less in building a close, intimate relationship with our spouse.

My husband, Richard, and I went out for a cup of coffee recently and while Richard waited to collect our order, I grabbed the only free table. As I looked around, I realised that every other table was occupied by couples, all of whom were sitting opposite each other in silence, engrossed in the screens of their mobile phones. Maybe some were dealing with important work emails – we’d done the same thing on many occasions.

But as I reflected on the scene, I was pretty sure that if they’d been with someone they didn’t know so well, they would have put their phones on silent and made the effort to talk. It’s interesting because the person we should make the most effort to talk to is, of course, our partner. As Richard came over with the coffee, I felt my phone buzz in my pocket and automatically reached to answer it. I was desperate to see who it was who needed my immediate attention, but then I thought, ‘No,’ as I realised something: the person I needed to focus on was sitting right in front of me.

We often talk about ‘safeguarding’ children in relation to digital technology, but perhaps we don’t think so much about safeguarding our marriages too. Here are some ideas that you might like to consider that will keep your relationship strong:

  1. Keep everything in the open. Never say anything online that you wouldn’t say if your spouse was standing alongside you. Some couples give each other their log in details and check with each other before posting information or photos.

  2. Set aside time to be together. Don’t let the internet get in the way of face-to-face time, real conversations and date nights with your partner. Physically being in the same room for an evening doesn’t count if individually you are in your own social media worlds!

  3. Use digital technology to support and build each other up. Never make a negative comment about your spouse on social media. Instead, use technology to encourage, affirm and let each other know that you love them.  

  4. Think carefully about who you become friends with. Is adding your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend really a good idea? ‘Liking’ and commenting on statuses and pictures are part and parcel of using social media, but remember that things like these can easily turn into flirting. Beware of giving anyone – including your spouse – an impression that you never intended them to have.

As couples, there’s so much to enjoy in our digital world, but let’s also be aware of the potential threats to marriage and equip ourselves to avoid them. It’s true of all areas of married life, but we won’t go far wrong if we make our partner our number one priority … both offline and on.


Image | Raw Pixel | Unsplash

iyfeert-marriage-coverKatharine Hill is UK Director for Care for the Family, and speaks and writes on family matters.

She is the author of If You Forget Everything Else, Remember This: Building a Great Marriage, a compass to help us navigate the challenging adventure of married life.

The book is published by Muddy Pearl


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