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What's digital infidelity (and could it end your marriage)?

The advent of social media has changed numerous things about American society -- including what many people see as infidelity.

Traditional notions of infidelity required an actual physical dalliance between an unfaithful spouse and his or her romantic partner. Thanks to the internet and social media, however, couples are reassessing what it really means to be unfaithful.

Digital infidelity is no less toxic to a marriage than a physical affair. It happens when people make use of email, text messages and social media accounts to develop romantic, emotional attachments to someone other than their spouse. Because there's nothing physical involved (except, possibly, some racy photos), many participants in digital infidelity find themselves engaged in an online affair before they realize what they're doing. The natural warning bells that go off when someone crosses a physical boundary aren't there -- which leads many people to throw caution to the wind. By the time they realize they're actually having an emotional affair on their spouse, they're already in pretty far.

How serious is the danger? Experts say that just about any online relationship can develop into an emotional affair, but social media has a habit of reconnecting old friends -- and that provokes a lot of problems. The shared memories of old friends, a mutual history and a sense of attraction -- coupled with the departure from real life that happens when you're only engaging through a computer screen -- can be deadly to a marriage.

How do you know if you (or your spouse) is at risk of a digital affair before it even happens? There are warning signs you can spot. If either you or your spouse seems to find more emotional fulfillment online than in your marriage, that's already a problem. If either of you starts to become obsessive about checking messages or "hopping online" for quick chats with someone, that's a red flag that trouble is brewing.

Digital affairs are serious problems for a marriage, although sometimes, they're also a symptom of problems that are already there. Either way, you may quickly end up needing a divorce lawyer's assistance if you don't put a fast halt to what's happening.

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