With the availability of chat rooms and groups on Internet Web sites, the temptation to meet new people online increases, according to ChatCheaters.com, a Web site created to help couples struggling with Internet infidelity and how to work through the problems.
A Probe Ministries Internet article titled, "The Allure of Cyber-Relationships," defines a cyber affair as "an intimate or sexually-explicit communication between a married person and someone other than their spouse that takes place on the Internet."
Two-thirds of American attorneys say the Internet played a significant role in divorces, according to ChatCheaters.com.
Online relationships provide individuals with an outlet to tell secrets and express themselves to a stranger anonymously, while allowing for the creation of another persona, according to the Probe Ministries article.
Men often create a well-groomed, professional, athletic persona, while women create a thin, beautiful and adventurous alter ego. When online, people create fictitious, seemingly perfect personalities that are desirable to others to fill social and psychological needs, the article stated.
Why it happens
Once the honeymoon phase of marriage is over, couples sometimes get bored, begin to take each other for granted and stop doing the nice things they did for one another before getting married, said Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program manager Stella Davis.
"When that happens, (spouses) are vulnerable and may seek affection and attention from someone else," she said. "Men are goal oriented. They can't read (women's) minds. Women should tell their husbands what they need. Most of the time, men just want to do what their wives need them to do. If a woman needs attention, she should tell her husband exactly what she wants."
Couples should develop a strong communication with each other, said Maj. Mackberth Williams, Fort Rucker Garrison and 110th Aviation Brigade chaplain, who added that when couples lack communication, they may seek it through the Internet.
"Women communicate their feelings while men communicate their thoughts," he said. "Understanding the needs of your spouse is key. If you spend the time to understand the needs of your spouse, it's going to be easier to meet their needs. Most of the time couples don't know because they don't take the time to ask."
Online cheating, from both spouses, also occurs during military deployments and temporary duty assignments away from home.
When infidelity occurs during deployments, it can happen for a number of reasons, said Davis. Some spouses cheat for revenge. Their spouse may have violated their trust or there is resentment towards the servicemember for leaving, she added.
Deployments add stress to marriages and couples use the separation as an excuse to cheat, Williams said.
"Soldiers need to make up for that, especially the fact that they're gone for long periods of time, work long hours and have stressful jobs," he said. "Because of those factors that they're faced with, they should give back (to their spouses) what their job has taken away. When the Army takes time away, (Soldiers) have to put it back into their families, and it can even out some of the disadvantages of deployments."
While the military lifestyle provides more opportunities for individuals to cheat online, it does not cause infidelity, Davis said.
"If the person wants to cheat, they're going to cheat," she said. "If a couple has the right tools and techniques, they can have a tighter relationship because of the separation."
Men and women cheat for different reasons - women usually cheat to fill an emotional void or need, while men usually cheat to fill physical needs, said Davis.
"The reality is, women and men are wired differently and look at sexual relationships differently," she said. "Most men do not equate love and sex like most women."
Warning signs, consequences and recovery
There are warning signs that an individual might be having an online relationship such as an increase in time spent privately on the Internet, reluctance to let others access the computer, frequently erasing Internet histories and constantly deleting e-mails, according to ChatCheaters.com.
The Web site also suggests looking out for the "quick click," or frantic mouse clicking when others enter the room, spending time on the Internet late at night, signing up for multiple, Web-based e-mail services and suddenly wanting a digital camera or scanner.
In addition to providing warning signs, the Web site also provides individuals with tips to stop having an online affair:
- Admit Internet use is causing problems in the relationship.
- Only use the computer for specific reasons - do not "surf" the Internet.
- Move the computer to an open area.
- Remove online messaging programs and change e-mail addresses.
- Install computer monitoring software.
- Spend more time with family and friends.
Sometimes people become addicted to the Internet. If an individual is addicted, then more intensive counseling to battle the addiction may be necessary, said Williams.
"The computer and Internet play a big part in our lives and can affect families in a negative way," he said. "If addiction is a big problem, then get rid of the computer. It's better to throw the computer out than to be thrown out of your own home."
In the case of online relationships, many never become physical relationships, but can cause as much emotional distress as a physical affair, according to the Probe Ministries article.
Spouses who want to confront their husbands or wives about having online affairs should be prepared for painful answers, Davis said.
"Go with your gut feeling if you think your spouse is cheating, but be prepared for the worst if you confront them," she said. "If (an individual) suspects his or her spouse is cheating, be direct and don't try to set the spouse up to lie."
Couples faced with infidelity must have a sense of forgiveness in the relationship, said Williams, who added that if infidelity is caught early, it is easier to work through. He also recommends and encourages the couple to get counseling.
Davis also said that it is important for spouses of cheaters to not blame themselves.
"When a person chooses to go outside of the marital relationship, it's their fault, not the spouse's," she said.
Paying the price
If the relationship does become physical, servicemembers may risk hurting their spouses, children and future. If convicted of adultery, Soldiers may face severe punishments.
"The military does not tolerate adultery," said Davis.
Under the service-wide Uniformed Code of Military Justice, Article 134, which addresses adultery, the maximum sentence for adultery is dishonorable discharge, imprisonment for one year and forfeiture of pay and allowances, said Staff Judge Advocate chief of military justice Capt. Jennifer O'Neill.
"Each charge must meet certain elements before (the Soldier) can be prosecuted and convicted of adultery," she said. "Punishment could vary depending on circumstances, and other things such as the rank of the Soldier, or whether they used government facilities to commit the crime."
To be convicted of adultery, the charge must meet three requirements: the Soldier wrongfully had sexual intercourse; either the Soldier or the other person, or both, were married to someone else at the time; and the act must be prejudicial to good order and discipline or service discrediting, O'Neill said.
An act that is prejudicial to good order and discipline means the affair has an obvious and measurable divisive effect on unit discipline, morale or cohesion or is detrimental to the authority or respect toward a Soldier, said O'Neill. Service discrediting means the act casts the U.S. Army in a negative light, and because of the open or notorious nature, lowers the public esteem of the service, she added.
Even if the adultery does not meet the requirements for conviction, Soldiers can still find themselves in hot water.
"Commanders have discretion on what actions they want to take, but everything has to be investigated first," said O'Neill. "It's based on such things as the marital status of both individuals; how egregious the act was; whether it accompanied other violations of the UCMJ; how it affected the other Soldiers and the unit; how it affected the Army; and any misuse of any government time or resources."
Whether individuals have physical relationships or online relationships, families can still be ripped apart, and adultery isn't worth the risk, said Davis, who encourages couples to seek proactive counseling.
"Even couples who aren't facing problems can attend counseling sessions to learn ways to enhance their relationships," she said.
"We work with couples experiencing problems and help them rekindle their relationships - showing the couples ways to find the qualities (in their partners) they fell in love with," said Davis.
Post chaplains offer similar services for Soldiers and their family members.
"The family is one of the strongest sources of strength for any Soldier. Losing a family means the Soldier loses support, and for a Soldier to be effective, (he or she) needs family support to be able to continue the mission," said Williams.
For more information about marital counseling, contact Stella Davis at the Family Advocacy Program at 255-3246, or contact the unit chaplain or call the chaplain's office at 255-2989. For more information about the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, Article 134, visit http://usmilitary.about.com and see the Justice, Law & Legislation link.