Digital Intimacies and Online Infidelities: A Practitioner’s Guide to Working with Couples in Crisis

Vossler, Andreas and Moller, Naomi (2024). Digital Intimacies and Online Infidelities: A Practitioner’s Guide to Working with Couples in Crisis. In: Peluso, Paul R. and Irvine, Taylor J. eds. Infidelity: A Practitioner’s Guide to Working with Couples in Crisis (2nd Edition). New York: Routledge, pp. 161–178.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003314776-13

Abstract

A core argument in this chapter is that the digital shift in the last three decades is transforming how people engage in intimate relationships in ways that can both support and impinge on couples. This has particular relevance for couple therapists who work with infidelity, as research shows that digitally mediated communication in intimate relationships can alter the way partners perceive relationship boundaries, blurring certainty about ‘traditional’ relational boundaries and creating new, unmapped relational spaces. In this real/not real online world, there are new possibilities for how infidelity is perceived, enacted, and experienced that have the potential to trouble relationships. In view of this shift, this chapter explores the practices of online infidelity, beginning by framing them within the broader literature on digital intimacies (with a focus on online dating) and digital relating, that is, how online spaces shift how people ‘do’ relationships. The subsequent section considers how relationship boundaries are blurred online, whether online communication increases infidelity risk, and how online infidelity may differ from offline infidelity. The final and most extensive section focuses on considerations for working therapeutically with online infidelity, covering specific issues that practitioners should consider when working with this issue. Key aspects and stages of the treatment process are outlined and illustrated by a case example.

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