When tension and resentment permeate a relationship, it is natural for someone to turn away from their spouse or significant other to avoid painful issues. Although a natural response, this leads to problems when comfort is sought with someone outside the marriage or through addiction.
It seems apparent that more and more people are using the Internet as a social platform. This can be a positive option for someone who is too socially anxious to engage in face-to-face contact. It can also be a good place to find a date through several well known dating services. There are many positive aspects of the Internet as well as negative ones.
For someone who is married or in a committed relationship, going online for excitement, comfort, and emotional support can mean trouble. There is a perception of anonymity about the Internet that may allow a person to engage in risky behavior without the usual restraint that would normally be in place. Although a case could be made that there isn't the anonymity we think there is, it is easy to see how this illusion could set someone up to make a quick emotional connection with a total stranger they met online.
Online chatting and gaming are allowing people to interact in virtual worlds with many of the emotional and even sexual experiences that one may not be getting in their relationship at home. Someone can portray himself or herself to be whomever or whatever they want to be. The feedback from their online acquaintances tends to be only positive because they too are looking for an idealized experience and want to make the illusion last. This type of interaction provides a stimulating activity with a highly rewarding feedback loop. It is irresistible. It has the attraction drugs have, high stimulation with very little effort.
Like drug addiction, online affairs can destroy relationships, families and lives. First of all, there are dangerous people online. Everyone is aware that people have been harmed or killed after going to meet someone they initially contacted online. Less dramatic but still destructive is the situation that arises when one person enters into an Internet affair and begins to relate to another person with a zest and energy that supersedes the effort they are putting into their marriage. They think about their online interest constantly, express deep emotions and intimate details of their personal life and create a fantasy that makes them feel better about their situation.
In my experience, this type of affair is extremely hard to let go of once it starts. Because there may not have been any actual physical contact, it can be easy to rationalize that the relationship is just a friendship. It is important to be honest with yourself and admit that it is competing with your marriage. It would be best not to start at all, but if it's too late for that, it is important to reveal the truth to your spouse or significant other. Then make a commitment not to contact the other person. When you do go online have a rule to do only what you are willing to have your spouse look at or do with you.
Most importantly, deal with your marital issues directly with your spouse. Internet affairs like other affairs are about avoidance. Pay attention to your needs and verbalize them to your spouse. Make time for each other and get counseling if needed. Relationships are challenging and painful at times, but I haven't encountered too many issues that can't be dealt with directly by two sincere, committed adults.