A reader's husband spends several hours online chatting with others - including women. She wants to know if it's just simply chatting, or is it cheating? Find out what our therapist Aaron Anderson has to say.
My husband loves to get online and look up funny videos or play games. Recently, he has found chatrooms that he likes to go to and talk to other people. At first, he usually just chatted with other guys, but recently he has begun chatting with women, too. He spends a lot of time on chatrooms, and I see him smiling and laughing as he’s doing it. When I ask him what he’s doing, he tells me "just chatting." A few days ago I told him I was uncomfortable with it and asked him to stop. But he tells me there’s nothing wrong with it and that I should “lighten up.” I feel like it’s cheating. He doesn’t. Is it cheating or should I just “lighten up”?
Sincerely, Cheating or Not
Dear Cheating or Not,
It's impossible for me to tell you definitively whether your husband is cheating by chatting online with other people — including women. I can't tell you because chatting is one of those very gray areas in relationships. Some people don't mind if their spouse talks with the opposite sex. Some don't even mind if their spouse goes out with people of the opposite sex for work, etc. Other people have a strict same-sex-only policy. It really depends on what you and your partner are comfortable with.
The most important thing is to talk to your spouse about what your expectations are and hear out what his expectations are. Have a candid conversation with each other and really try to understand each other's perspective. People automatically assume that our spouses should have the same expectations in marriage as we do. So if we wouldn't chat with people of the opposite sex, we expect our spouse to just naturally think the same thing — without question. But you grew up differently than he did. So it's normal for spouses to have different values. That doesn't mean one of you is wrong, it just means you have to compromise and come up with an agreeable solution.
Online Transparency is Key
One thing I always tell my couples who come to me for counseling with similar problems about online behavior is to be completely transparent with the conversations that are happening online. In this way, you can see if his conversations are overly personal or if they're just meaningless chit chat. If they're just meaningless chit chat then there's really no harm, and you don't need to be too bothered about them.
But if the conversations begin becoming too personal or if he begins hiding conversations from you, then the chatting is becoming detrimental to the relationship. That's when you need to have a frank conversation with him that the chatting needs to stop. Hiding conversations is a big sign that he is sharing personal things or sharing things that might be hurtful to you and he doesn't want you to know. That's when it crosses the line out of the gray areas.
Remember, not all chatting is cheating. If he can be transparent with his conversations then there's probably nothing inappropriate going on. The most important thing is for you and your spouse to come up with a creative solution together to help you feel more secure, and for him to still be able to spend recreational time on the Internet. Here is another article that offers advice when an affair occurs in a marriage.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. Checkout his blog for expert information on how to improve your relationship.