‘Sexting’: A New Relationship Crisis?

‘Sexting’… So, what exactly is it? Sexting is the sending or receiving of sexually explicit messages or photographs over mobile phones or other forms of social media. This is a tendency that has slowly risen over the years as more and more individuals use phones as their primary mode of communication. According to an article titled “Reframing Sexting as a Positive Relationship Behavior,” 88% of individuals have engaged in some form of’sexting’ within the framework of a relationship. 2

These are, after all, simply two studies that do not reflect the entire population. Another way to look at it is that technology is something that most people (in major cities or suburbs) focus on on a regular basis. People are very active on social media via mobile phones, computers, and tablets. They use these social media tools for a variety of reasons (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat, etc). Is there any reason to believe, even for a moment, that individuals aren’t using technology to date or improve their current relationships? Texting/messaging, social media, and video chatting are available to people all around the country (and the world) (Facetime, Viper, etc.). Any of these modalities can be used in the context of a relationship with ease.

So, how do people feel about sexting?

The issue is that no two people define’sexting’ in the same manner. Is it the transmission of explicit or provocative messages? Is it mostly about sending sexual images? Some regard it as one or the other, or even both. This has been unclear due to differing viewpoints on the matter. Sexting may encompass not only messaging but also the use of Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and Facetime, as well as other social media platforms. Sending sexually explicit footage or displaying nude body parts while video conferencing could also go under this category. This further confuses problems and broadens the current definition.

Most people have warmed up to the concept of’sexting,’ and according to the previously stated studies, a large percentage of people have engaged (and continue to engage) in this conduct. These studies and polls have concentrated on how’sexting’ can enhance relationships and revive sex lives. There is, however, a darker side. This article focuses on persons who use’sexting’ to find excitement, sex, and/or attention outside of their current relationship. Because virtual or internet relationships are not considered “real,” the lines are sometimes blurred.

Is it considered cheating to’sext’ outside of a relationship?

That is an excellent question. We already know that’sexting,’ or sending sexually suggestive messages, can significantly improve a committed relationship. But what happens when these communications are sent outside of a committed relationship? What is the average public’s opinion of’sexting’?

“According to a 2013 Huffington Post poll of 1,000 U.S. adults, 85 percent of women and 74% of men consider’sexting’ to be a form of infidelity.” 1

Outside of a relationship,’sexting’ can be exhilarating, especially for people looking for ‘that extra something’ in their lives. Perhaps these people love their spouses or partners, but they appear to have ‘lost’ the passion or excitement in their relationship. Others may be looking for someone else online or virtually (through texting, online websites, or other media) with whom they can flirt and who is regarded “safe.” This could fit under the “grass is greener on the other side of the fence” category. A person may be really pleased or mainly satisfied with their partner but believe that they can find something greater outside of their relationship.

Other examples include men and women who appear to be invisible to their partners or spouses due to demanding work, children, mental illness, physical illness, drunkenness, and so on. These people may discover that’sexting’ with a third party allows them to feel loved, desired, and even sexy. People excuse their activities and persuade themselves that they are not cheating because there is no physical relationship through the media (and potentially for other reasons).

Is this inappropriate behavior? Is it unethical? There are a variety of reasons why a person may decide to engage in’sexting’ outside of a relationship, but what precisely is the intention? Some people may assume that because’sexting’ is virtual, it isn’t inherently wrong. Sexting does not have to include physical contact and can be dismissed as a mere fantasy (or something they do not intend to pursue). It may have begun as something innocuous (such as work-related communications sent to a colleague, coworker, or fellow student), but it quickly progressed to a more sexual type of interaction.

If a person deletes texts, hides cell phone bills, or is secretive about this virtual relationship, it appears that he or she has gotten more engaged with someone other than a spouse or partner. This individual is now thinking about another someone, sending photographs to that other, and possibly hoping he or she could spend time with that individual. When it comes to the health of a marriage or relationship, any moment someone else becomes involved, that health is now jeopardized. We may also claim that the commitment to the relationship or marriage has weakened as a result of the addition of a third party to the mix.

Case Studies:

Maria and Thomas (not their real names) have been married for three years but have been together for almost twelve years. Thomas had struggled with anxiety his entire life, but had developed a drinking habit to mask the severe feelings he experienced on a regular basis. Maria had seen him passed out on the couch a few times after work, and he spent a significant amount of time drinking with colleagues. This circumstance made her feel distant and skeptical of Thomas. Thomas didn’t seem to love or desire her, and his drinking had become his new relationship. Maria decided to contact an old male classmate with whom she began a’sexting’ connection. She never sent this other individual any sexually explicit images of herself, but the messages they exchanged were quite suggestive.

Maria had no intention of cheating on Thomas; she simply felt lonely and unattractive. She wanted companionship with someone who expressed interest in her and chose to keep this’sexting’ relationship going for a few months. She stated that this individual made her feel sexy and desired. She also felt pleased that someone was interested in her, even though this individual never met her in person. Maria felt guilty about sending messages to people other than her spouse, but she persisted. She became so irritated with Thomas that she’sexted’ a friend while her husband sat next to her on the couch.

Although Maria was not having a physical affair, she was having an emotional affair. Maria had had enough of trying to persuade her husband about his drinking and lack of interest in her. Because her husband was unavailable, she spent a significant amount of time hunting for affection outside of her relationship. When Thomas discovered out about Maria’s’sexting’ connection, he was devastated that she would do such a thing.

Maria decided to go to therapy to talk about her issues and disappointments with herself and her relationship. Clearly, she recognized that, while her marriage was not in the best of health, she needed assistance in putting things into perspective. Maria wanted to invite her husband to the meetings after a few sessions. During these sessions, they discussed their thoughts and how they were both disappointed with one another. Maria was able to express how she felt unwanted and lonely, while Thomas was validated for his anxiety concerns. Thomas was questioned about his drinking and how it was harming their relationship. This couple was able to converse with one another, forgive one another, and move on.

Julio and Gabrielle (not their real names) were not so fortunate. Julio began’sexting’ with another woman he met online shortly after his daughter was born. He had been unhappy with Gabrielle for some time but had no idea how to express his views. He had come from a family where voicing feelings was frowned upon. Julio was online looking for attention when his wife was pregnant and weary most of the time.

Things were first extremely gentle. He sent out a few texts here and there to check if any other women were interested. Julio, on the other hand, spent a lot of time on his phone after his daughter was born. He’sexted’ with a certain woman he had a connection with at work and in the car. He also deleted all of the communications because he didn’t want his wife to get suspicious or discover them ‘by chance.’ So he was able to maintain this appearance for a good 6 months.

But one day he wasn’t so careful. Julio forgot to erase certain messages, and his wife checked his phone while she was up late feeding the baby. She was shocked and horrified by what she discovered. Gabrielle chose not to speak out straight away because she wanted to see if she could catch him or get him to acknowledge to the behavior. And she was able to do so one day. She discovered him in the bathroom, photographing his genitals and sending the images and notes. She approached him right afterwards, but he denied ever meeting this woman. Gabrielle knew they needed professional assistance and sought treatment.

She expressed her love for Julio and her desire to keep their marriage together, but she would not accept this type of behavior from him. Julio was eventually able to voice his dissatisfaction with Gabrielle after some encouragement. He indicated that he only married her because she became pregnant with his daughter, but the two of them were not really compatible. She also discovered in therapy that Julio had lied about meeting up with the woman he had been texting and that they had been dating. Gabrielle and Julio decided to divorce at this moment because their relationship was irreparable.

So, what are your options?

If you find yourself seeking attention outside of your marriage or relationship, you should ask yourself some key questions.

What do you hope to achieve? What are your objectives? Have you discovered that you are uninterested in preserving your marriage or relationship? What is your motivation for attempting to connect with someone else? Are you yearning for attention since you don’t receive enough at home? Are you looking for something more exciting or compatible than your current relationship? Is it possible to save your relationship with the support of someone who can inspire improved communication and engagement? Are you simply looking to make your partner/spouse jealous? These questions must be addressed before the relationship deteriorates beyond repair.

If you decide that you do not want to continue in your current relationship, you must have an open conversation with your spouse or partner. It is critical to express your feelings and give this other individual the opportunity to hear that the relationship is finished. This helps your spouse to begin the process of grieving and finally moving on from the relationship. Hopefully, you are able to provide your spouse or partner some support and compassion, allowing for a more amicable split.

Emotions will be strong in any circumstance, particularly for the one who has recently discovered this outside relationship. If your spouse or partner’s’sexting’ relationship has caused you too much pain to stay with him or her, this must also be handled. Each person reacts differently to highly emotional events. One pair may be able to communicate effectively even in stressful settings, whilst another couple may be unable to remain in the same room together. As a result, it is critical to anticipate how your spouse or partner will react in this situation and devise a solution that works for both of you.

Couples are advised to seek assistance. A counselor, therapist, or psychologist can assist couples in navigating this circumstance. If a relationship has been severely harmed by’sexting’ (by which a physical relationship may or may not have begun), essential feelings on both sides must be addressed. These relationships can be saved depending on the desires of all parties involved, but it takes time to reestablish trust and confidence. Because the majority of these partnerships involve one (or both) people looking for someone else, it is critical to foster vocal conversation about what each individual sees as lacking in the connection. Feelings must be communicated, and each partner or spouse must be given the opportunity to express himself or herself. In this type of situation, forgiveness is really important. Each person must ask himself/herself if forgiveness is an option, and if so, they can move forward with forming a new connection. They can accomplish this by spending time together and discussing ways to meet each other’s needs. Only when these critical difficulties have been addressed can the couple begin to chart a new course toward happiness.