As a counselor, I frequently hear these statements: “I didn’t realize I was being unfaithful!” and “Why is my spouse is so upset? Nothing physical happened.”

Touching, oral sex, or intercourse are not the only paths to cheating. There’s a path to emotional intimacy that’s created through the cyber communication of Facebook messages, emails, or texts.

According to B. Smith in Monitor on Psychology, “People often feel more comfortable revealing intimate details of their lives to relative strangers because the relationship exists only in cyberspace. Things happen so quickly online. Some people really begin to think the other person is in love with them. They develop this intimacy and fantasy relationship. The cool thing about fantasy relationships is they don’t require any work.”

You might read this and say, “How is a cyber relationship being unfaithful?” There are three key words in this quote that reveal the point at which your heart starts to travel away from your marriage–revealing, intimate, and details.

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Maybe you’ve heard about a friend, family member, or coworker who reconnects with an old high-school flame. Their conversations start out innocently enough as they catch up on past and current events. But then a subtle shift occurs in their conversations. One person starts asking for advice on how to deal with a husband who works crazy hours or a wife who’s constantly on the run with volunteer activities. The hidden message becomes, My spouse doesn’t know me, care for me, or love me. Feeling sorry for this old flame, the other one decides to reveal a few of their own marital difficulties. And suddenly, without warning, they’ve created a sense of intimacy and a feeling that finally someone understands their frustrations. Justification races through their thoughts: I’m not really cheating–we haven’t touched each other.

 Scripture provides additional insight into expelling the “no intercourse means no infidelity” defense: “You know the next commandment pretty well, too: ‘Don’t go to bed with another’s spouse.’ But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices—they also corrupt” (Matthew 5:27-28, MSG).

How do you know you’re headed into risky cheating territory that could harm your marriage?

  • If there were a camera recording your activity, and the tape was shown to your spouse, parents, brothers and sisters, or pastor, would you be embarrassed?
  • You’re discussing problems you’re having in your marriage.
  • You’re hiding your online activity from your spouse.
  • Throughout your day, all you can think about is the other person.
  • You’re taking photos of yourself to send out.
  • You’re sharing your emotions, struggles, concerns, fantasies and dreams with someone other than your spouse.

If you have to ask, “Is it really cheating?” your words reveal the real heart of the matter. What you’re really asking is, “How much can I get away with and not have my spouse find out?”