Just (Online) “Friends”?

Dear Dr. Deb

I am a 55 year-old married man, happily devoted to my wonderful wife of 30 years.  She is smart, beautiful, kind, and funny.  We have recently become empty nesters, and I’m loving the independence.

Several months ago, while noodling through the internet, I met a woman who, like me, is an avid motorcycle rider. We have become internet chat friends, talking about everything from motorcycles, to politics, and more.  There is nothing sexual about our conversations.

The problem, Dr. Deb, that my wife feels disconnected from me and deeply betrayed.  Convinced I am cheating, she has taken to annoyingly hover over me when I am at my computer, which is slowly alienating me from her.

I love her and would never cheat on her. However, we have become distanced and have reached an impasse in our relationship.


Dear Confused,

Let me get this straight: you’ve been happily married to your “smart, beautiful, kind, and funny” wife for many years, you’re both enjoying newfound freedom since your children left the house, which you’ve spent striking up an online “friendship” with another woman, and now your wife doesn’t trust you, nagging and hovering whenever you’re at the computer-and you want my advice on what to do about this problem?

I think you’re asking the wrong question.

The problem isn’t that your wife feels disconnected and betrayed.  The problem is really rooted in one of the biggest questions of our modern age: when does chatting become cheating?

I’ve seen this phenomenon repeatedly in my practice over the past decade.  Confused, welcome to the latest frontier of betrayal: the virtual world of the internet, which has, intentionally or not, brought another dimension of infidelity into relationships.  It often starts with an innocent online sharing of interests, which eventually morphs into what I will call virtual intimacy.

There’s no gray area around this.  It just seems “complicated” because our minds tend to rationalize things when we know we’ve made a mistake. I get it.

Technically, you didn’t plan for this to happen. Technically, you’re “only” chatting and not doing anything sexual.  But real-life relationships-especially a 30 -year marriage-are not built on technicalities. They’re built on mutual respect and trust.

Not having cybersex doesn’t make your chats innocent. Infidelity may either be sexual or emotional in nature. The point is that it jeopardizes the trust and respect between you and your wife.

She’s certainly picking up that something is different with your online “friendship.”  After 30 years of living together, she can feel your growing detachment. And I bet she feels it most every time you’re at the computer fully engaged in your online relationship with another woman.

I will agree that the nagging-and-hovering reaction isn’t exactly the best way to communicate her feelings of insecurity and frustration and it’s causing you to shut down.  However, this is a difficult situation, and she needs your empathy and reassurance that you’re at least trying to understand her point of view.

Confused, ask yourself honestly why you’re communicating your thoughts, feelings and ideas with someone else online instead of sharing them with your partner of 30 years.

If you want to end the impasse, as you put it, the ball is in your court to open communications by taking accountability for your actions.  Engaging in your online “friendship” has jeopardized the mutual feelings of trust and respect in your marriage.  I suggest you begin by talking about your feelings of being empty nesters. After years of catering to your children, perhaps you feel more like strangers than a married couple.  Sit down and listen to each other and talk things out.  What would it take to heal your relationship?  Decide together and go from there.

Dr. Deb

Do you have a burning question – Your comments in response to a column are welcome. ​I will do my best to answer as many of your questions as I can. Please email me at deb@drdeborahhecker.com