By Judith Duffy, Health Correspondent
IT could be viewed as an innocent chat in cyberspace, but sending e-mails late at night and revealing personal details of your life are signs of betraying your partner, according to new research.
Psychologists from Glamorgan University have carried out an investigation to try and define the point at which online exchanges are perceived as emotional infidelity.
The study revealed that sending messages late at night and revealing intimate information are the key factors that will cause your partner to believe you are having a virtual affair.
The popularity of websites such as Friends Reunited and dating chatrooms have been blamed for helping to fuel a rise in divorces in recent years.
According to leading counselling group Relate, one in 10 people seeking help from them now complain about the impact of the internet on their relationship.
Dr Martin Graff, psychology lecturer at the Glamorgan University, said there was now the potential for people to engage in “virtual” infidelity alongside face-to-face relationships, yet the issues around this had not been explored.
“I guess we have a definition of sexual infidelity, but this involves more emotional infidelity and we just wanted to see what people thought,” he said. “Chatting online is fine, but where do people start seeing it as not quite right?”
The research, which will be presented at a British Psychological Society conference next month, asked a group of men and women in their early 20s to judge varying scenarios involving internet communication and rate what they believed constituted online infidelity.
Certain factors were deemed to be irrelevant, such as whether the correspondence was through e-mail or instant messaging services or the gender of the person who initiated the online conversation.
But Graff said: “People who interacted online later at night were perceived as possibly more unfaithful than those who interacted during the day. I guess it is seen as being more surreptitious if you are online late into the night.
“The amount you disclose to people is also generally perceived as being a lot more unfaithful, as it signals a degree of intimacy with someone.”
Denise Knowles, a counsellor for 16 years with Relate, said that a major problem with the internet was that it could cause a distance in relationships.
“The time spent on the internet is time spent away from the primary relationship,” she said. “A few people have said to me that when their partner is doing this and they are talking to other men or women on the internet, it is almost as if they are having an affair where the third party is under their roof.
“Because they are sitting in the corner of the room – or worse, in their bedroom – it is very intrusive and they can often feel quite violated.”
Knowles pointed out another difficulty was that often the person who was carrying out the internet activities was unaware of the harm it was causing.
“People say ‘I don’t know what you are going on about, I haven’t actually seen the person and I don’t intend to’,” she said. “But the real problem is the fact that there is time being spent talking and sharing intimacies with somebody else that really ought to be shared with your partner.”
20 August 2006