When I was young, I never liked when my mom and dad would close the bedroom door at night after saying goodnight. Being all alone in a large bedroom provided the opportunity for my imagination to run wild, letting all those monsters and villains run wild in the privacy of my room. As I grew older though, a closed bedroom door at night provided me privacy to let my introverted self relax and decompress from the day’s stresses and demands.
We all have different privacy needs based on our personalities. However, I probably don’t have to tell you that too much can be dangerous—especially privacy with someone of the opposite sex.
Ask yourself: If you were at home and your spouse was not, would you invite someone of the opposite sex, to have a conversation in the privacy of your bedroom? Especially in the privacy of your bedroom with the door locked and window shades drawn? Most likely—and hopefully—your answer is a firm, “No!”
But if I were to ask if you regularly texted with the opposite sex, the answer may not be the same.
Texting and the Doorway to Infidelity
It's no secret that text messaging has become the social norm for communicating. Its ease of use with hardly any effort allows us to be in touch with anyone from anywhere at any time. We’re texting with our bosses about why we showed up to work late, sending messages to our co-workers about the next meeting, and messaging with our friends about this weekend’s barbecue. We text without thinking. We text because the world we live in says text messaging with others, including the opposite sex, is perfectly acceptable communication.
Unfortunately, there is a false sense of security that exists in cell-phone text messaging with the opposite sex: It almost always feels as though the words sent and received in a text will not venture into dangerous open waters. The reality is a text message is open water. There is no shallow end to stand on or wall to grab onto. What is sent and received in a text-based world can easily trigger our deepest, darkest feelings and desires, surfacing them in a conversation that began harmlessly.
What is sent and received in a text-based world can easily trigger our deepest, darkest feelings and desires, surfacing them in a conversation that began harmlessly.
Too often in text messaging, particularly with the opposite sex, insignificant words are sent that are either consciously or unconsciously linked to more significant emotional or sexual roots in the heart; roots that are intended to remain deeply rooted in a marriage instead outside of it, to prevent emotional or sexual detachment from a spouse.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve studied others' research and heard stories in my own research of married men and women texting outside their marriage with the opposite sex that ended in an extramarital affair. Most often texting was innocent in nature; infidelity wasn't in sight. They largely discussed topics about their kids’ school or their spouse’s new job, however, quickly transitioning to, for instance, a conversation about how their spouse doesn’t want to talk about their feelings, and they do, or that they noticed the other at the gym, commenting on how they're attracted to their physical appearance. These disclosures most often lead to emotional confiding and discussions of sexual fantasies. In nearly every extramarital account I've studied or researched myself, what seems to occur in all of these participants' accounts, are descriptions of communication blind-spots: that is, negative marital consequences based on emotional and/or sexual confiding through text-messaging with the opposite sex that seem to come out of nowhere.
Affairs Don’t Begin With Sex.
Men and women were designed physically and emotionally to have sex and talk about deep feelings. However, talking about sex and feelings with the opposite sex through texts can quickly detach a married person from his or her spouse emotionally and/or sexually in the real world. Let’s be honest: Many married men and married women text the opposite sex innocently without ever falling into this trap. There are many who respect their spouses completely, stewarding well their texts, never venturing into discussing feelings or sex with the opposite sex in a text.
But the research is thorough and sound. I think the slope is too slippery to ignore; many individuals walk text-message communication like a tightrope, sometimes without even knowing it. An extensive body of ever-growing research supports that social media and digital media (texting) is associated with violations of fidelity and decreased relationship satisfaction. Marital relationships experiencing one spouse communicating emotionally or sexually with the opposite sex through text report feeling the exact same feelings as those spouses whose spouse committed a face-to-face extramarital sexual affair (not beginning through text or social media). These feelings are betrayal, rejection, abandonment, loneliness, jealousy, humiliation, loss of trust, and anger. Most alarmingly, the large majority of extramarital affairs beginning through social and digital media end in divorce.
As social and digital media communication grows and evolves, so do the opportunities for those who are married to commit extramarital affairs. Text messaging itself is not the culprit. The culprit is the heart of the person text messaging. It can be argued, and I would agree, that each communication medium in history has had its own potential relationship perils. This medium, however, is consuming, maintaining, and altering the human mind to such a hyper degree. It's affecting marital relationships so drastically that we cannot not discuss it.
Here’s the important thing to realize: Safeguarding your marriage against infidelity should extend beyond the bedroom. Infidelity occurs well before having actual sex with someone, and in today’s culture, the smoke can potentially be fanned into a fire during text messaging.
If we look at the progression of an extramarital sexual affair on a horizontal, chronologically ordered line, we can map out the development of an extramarital affair, whether conscious or unconscious, according to strategic steps. So, let's say we use ten points on this line to represent each individual emotional progression, communication progression, and attachment progression. Step one would represent the initial, first encounter between the two parties, while step ten would represent a full-blown sexual affair. However, emotional detachment from one's spouse may occur anywhere between steps one and ten, and most often, as I recounted above, they seem to come out of nowhere for instigating spouses by way of unforeseen communication blind-spots.
When a large amount of cognizant, fantasizing, emotional, and/or sexual effort is placed consistently on another person outside of a marital relationship, it is difficult to maintain full, consistent levels of spousal emotional and/or sexual attachment. Text-messaging only increases the speed it takes to progress between steps one and ten, as self-disclosure is more readily shared in a seemingly private, proverbial, closed-room setting.
We’ve all heard the saying, “The grass is greener on the other side.” This is saying that we sometimes want what someone else has because we assume it's better than what we have.
Text messaging provides an opportunity for wandering hearts, hearts not fully committed to their spouses, to seek pleasure from someone other than their spouses when their relationship grass may be losing its color. More alarmingly though, text messaging provides an opportunity for even hearts most devoted to their marriages, to inadvertently seek pleasure from someone other than their spouse.
It’s this truth we must listen to and, apply guidelines in our marriage for communicating with the opposite sex, in an effort fully to respect them, ourselves, and others' spouses.
How to Handle It
I’ve put together some suggested guidelines you and your spouse can consider when it comes to texts and the opposite sex:
We must be cognizant that the definition of privacy now extends from actual private spaces, to social-digital-text messaging spaces as well. Our goal in our marriages should be to respect our spouse to a degree that may extend higher than the expected cultural norm.
Fitzgerald, J. (2017). Foundations for couples' therapy: Research for the real world. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Wysocki, D. K., Childers, C. D. (2011). Let my fingers do the talking: Sexting and infidelity in cyberspace. Sexuality & Culture, 15, 217-239.