• Vaughan Relationship Centre: Counselling to Empower.
Does Online Flirting Pose a Threat to a Relationship

From Facebook, to Snapchat, to Tinder: a little chatting here, some flirting there – what’s the problem? If it’s not in-person, it’s harmless, right?  When there is a real person on the other end, should you treat your online actions with the same set of morals and values you would in real life interactions?

When it comes to cyber interaction, the lines tend to get blurry for many of us. Yet the damage it can do to the trust between partners has become very real for many of our clients. A recent study revealed that an overwhelming 82% of millennials surveyed consider online flirtations as cheating. To many couples, an active online dating profile, for instance, is a form of infidelity. Unless a couple has developed their own set of relationship rules which may be more fluid in terms of commitment and exclusivity, it is a reasonable reaction to feel cheated on if you find out about your partner’s active cyber dating life.

Why are people in relationships still active on dating sites?

In modern dating, it is common for people to keep their options open or even date multiple people at once until they commit to being exclusive. In a long-term relationship that is declared exclusive, some people still maintain active profiles for a variety of reasons. Some want to see what’s out there and will leave the relationship when they find an attractive match. Others get a thrill from being pursued and get a confidence boost from being messaged even though they are in a committed, exclusive relationship and have no intention of physical cheating. For some people, though, it’s exactly what it looks like: they intend to cheat or are actively cheating on their partner.

Someone who isn’t fully invested in a relationship but also doesn’t want to be alone might always have a wandering eye on dating sites to keep all options open for themselves, but the more common reasons we’ve encountered in our practice normally reach a little further under the surface than that.

In our experience, the truth more often lies within the insecurities of the “cheating” partner rather than in any shortcomings of the partner that’s being “cheated on.” Self-sabotage is a common underlying motive. The belief that they might not deserve the full love and affection of one person can be so deeply rooted that they will unconsciously pursue this way of self sabotage as soon as they feel their relationship moving towards real deep intimacy.

How you should react when you find out about your partner’s online flirts

It is understandable that your initial reaction may come from a place of self-protection, accompanied by worry and fear. It is our philosophy that a relationship thrives from openness and honesty between partners. Therefore, we do recommend you share your findings and your feelings about this with one another. However, it is important that you do so only once you’ve reached a mindset that will allow you to communicate your thoughts in an unthreatening, non-blaming way.  Avoid putting your partner in a corner where they default to a defensive reaction, instead try to create an environment of equal exchange that will help your significant other to truly hear you. It is important that both of you get a chance to share their needs and expectations for this partnership without judgement, so you can clarify the boundaries you can agree on and, specifically, your stance on online flirting and dating.

It may even be helpful to clarify what online flirting is. While most couples might agree that sending sexually suggestive messages on social media is over the line in an exclusive, closed relationship, what if you get jealous when your partner “likes” innocuous posts and photos of an old flame on Facebook? What if your significant other is insecure or jealous of you texting coworkers, even though there is nothing going on? It goes both ways, which is why it’s so important to define boundaries. I tell my clients that the rule of thumb is: if you can’t do the behaviour with your partner sitting right next to you, then you know that you are crossing boundaries.

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