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Early on in my Second Life, I wrote several posts about Second Life sex: how to have it, why to have it, why not to have it, and so on. Today I found a new comment on one of those old posts from someone whose First Life (“real life”) wife, from what he can see, is cheating on him in Second Life:

“I have on several occasions seen my spouse engaging in this type of activity when she thought I was asleep on the couch or when I entered the room unexpectedly,” He says. “If I approach her to rub her back or pick something up off the desk, I usually notice a chatbox disappearing safely out of sight. As soon as I walk away into the kitchen, the furious *click click click* of typing resumes.”

I don’t usually use the word “cheating” because I don’t think it’s very descriptive, but this post isn’t about different perspectives and extenuating circumstances: it’s about what to do if you’re the one being hurt, so I’ll just use the word “cheating” and save the fine distinctions for another post I’ll be putting up soon, which will be addressed to cheaters and will I hope provide some idea of how a person can stop doing something they feel helpless to give up. But I’m not a professional therapist or couples counselor or anything like that, so take my advice with a little skepticism if you need to.

Let’s begin with a disclosure, something I haven’t spoken of publicly before for fear of being called a cheater myself: when I joined Second Life, and yes, when I started my romantic adventures, I was married. I did not tell my husband about my romantic activity, and he never had the least clue about it, straight up through our divorce. Why? Because he had decided, over my protests, to move across the country temporarily – for at least a year! – for a job opportunity. At the time I thought he might be coming back, but there was no way of knowing. In the end he didn’t, and that was entirely his own doing. I decided once he left me that I was no longer in a committed relationship, even though I wasn’t even legally separated. When your spouse moves away against your wishes, I don’t think we can really call that commitment on their part.

If he had come back (assuming I had taken him back, which I have to admit I would have; despite this kind of behavior he has many, many wonderful qualities and is generally a fine man of upstanding character), I would have immediately ceased my romantic adventures (as I did the moment I got in a serious relationship again, although I ended that relationship after a while and went back to my virtually romantic ways) and would have told him about it. He could have judged for himself how he liked that I did that. I feel the moral of the story is “don’t run off leaving beautiful, clever women for a job opportunity”. Even though it was a good job opportunity.

Sorry for all that detail, but I’m telling you where I’m coming from for three reasons. First, you may judge me a cheater myself and decide I have no moral authority, in which case it’s better to know that before you read my advice. I would completely disagree with you, but it’s up to each of us to find her own moral compass.

Second, you may agree with me based on my handling of the situation (especially that part about quitting virtual sex for the duration of that later First Life committed relationship) that I *do* have some moral authority, and that’s good to know, too.

Third, I think it illustrates something important about why people get romantically involved in Second Life – including people who are cheating on their spouses: many people come into Second Life to fulfill needs that aren’t being met in First Life. It’s not constructive to try to find someone to blame for not fulfilling needs: if a person in a relationship has an unfulfilled need, it means that *neither* person is taking care of it, and it’s often the responsibility of both.

In my case, my husband zooming off left me with several unfulfilled needs, especially since I wasn’t willing to cross the line into a separate physical relationship.

First, I wanted to feel desired again, because being set aside for a job opportunity tends to make a person feel pretty unattractive. Second, I wanted some love and romance, because those were needs in my life that I had been looking to my husband to fill, and he was not filling them in spades after that move. No phone sex, no romantic letters, nothing except friendly phone calls. Very nice phone calls, but certainly nothing to make me swoon! Third, I wanted a sexual outlet, because I like sex and I like romance and the alternative was being forced into only fantasy and deprivation. And finally, I wanted that close connection with a person that I get in a good relationship but was no longer getting in my marriage. I wanted a person I could have a deeply involved relationship with, even if the relationship was conducted entirely in Second Life.

And seeking all of this in Second Life put a safe perimeter around the play and prevented it expanding into a permanent First Life relationship. I was not willing to get into an entanglement that would jeopardize salvaging my marriage if the opportunity came along.

And even though in my case I *wasn’t* in a committed relationship at the time, I think many of the same feelings and needs are happening with many people who are cheating in Second Life. Or they might also have other needs, for instance for a relationship over which they have more control, or a situation where they don’t have to worry about money (money is said to be one of the two problem-causers most likely to destroy a marriage, the other being sex).

So the work falls onto the shoulders of you, the person who is being hurt. This isn’t fair, but it can be a good thing and ultimately make the relationship stronger. If you’re willing to accept the burden of fixing this mess, here’s the job you have to take on: figure out what needs the other person feels aren’t getting fulfilled. (And thanks to my friend Lucas, who originally introduced me to this particular approach.)

These may not be sensible needs. The person might be deeply in debt through their own fault and be in Second Life to have a relationship that lets them escape money worries. You may express your love to your partner day in and day out and yet your partner may not hear that and be going into Second Life to have someone else say that in a slightly different way. In a way, though, it doesn’t matter how sensible the needs are or aren’t: the reason your partner is having virtual sex in Second Life is probably because they have needs that as far as they’re concerned aren’t getting met in First Life.

That doesn’t excuse hurting you, by the way. People are responsible for getting their needs fulfilled without hurting other people, and your partner, it seems, isn’t doing this. But then, all of us (or at least everyone *I* know, including myself) fails on this count sometimes. You don’t have to start by forgiving the person, but in order to be able to fix things, you do have to start by understanding your partner, and by having at least a little sympathy for the needs they’re trying to get met. It’s hard, I know. It’s like me understanding and sympathizing a little with my then-husband’s need to get a decent job again, and prioritizing that over our relationship. It’s really important to him to feel valuable and to have control over his financial life. I think he was wrong to do it, but I understand why he did it and can sympathize with those needs.

In any case, the way to make it possible for your partner to end the relationship is to get those needs addressed, one way or another. If the partner needs more eroticism in the relationship, you’ll have to step up to the plate or help your partner find ways to take more erotic pleasure in your relationship by their own actions. If your partner needs admiration and reassurance, it might help for them to find a therapist to sort those feelings out, and it might *really* help for you to give more of that to them.

Which is really hard, because you have needs too, such as the need not to be cheated on in favor of a computerized relationship! In order for you to stay sane, you need to find a way to deal with your needs as well.

I can’t tell you what order to do things in. You may need to find ways to get over your feelings of hurt and anger before you can bring this up with your lover. For things like that, a good therapist (especially a cognitive therapist, in my experience) can really help – but so can just getting a chance to talk it out with someone you trust who will give you some support.

If you’re OK for now and ready to start by working on your partner instead, then your first job is to sleuth out what the problems are. How you handle this has to come from your strengths and your understanding of the relationship. For many people, it may be a confrontation (a surprisingly easy one for your partner, if you’ve already gotten a chance to express your frustrations elsewhere, because people with needs that aren’t getting met are often dying to talk about them if they can do that without being yelled at) that develops into a conversation about what the other person needs.

Having a conversation like this is extremely hard, of course! Getting your feelings out elsewhere first will make it easier. So will being willing to do a lot of listening before you do much talking. And when you talk about what’s happening, you will have much better luck if you use absolutely reporter-like terms: don’t say “When you were cheating on me the other night…” but rather “When you were having virtual sex the other night”. The first one is an accusation – a fair one, but one that tends to make people defensive. The second one is just a statement of fact (assuming it *is* a fact. If you’re not sure, you might have to say “When you were using Second Life last night, I guess to have virtual sex…”).

You don’t have to have much sympathy for the Second Life resident or residents your partner has been cheating with. Try to avoid demonizing that person (I suspect I may have been unknowingly suckered into being “the other woman” more than once myself, and I know I’m not the only one) just on the general principle of keeping things constructive, but you don’t have to understand anything about your partner’s Second Life except why your partner needs it.

Of course, your partner may have no idea what needs are driving him or her online. Communication between the two of you is key, as well as paying close attention to what the other person is doing.

Or you might decide not to confront, especially if you’re not sure. This slower, stealthier approach requires you to talk a lot with your partner, encourage them to express their feelings, and to be very observant of *when* and *why* your partner tends to want to go into Second Life. If it’s all the time, that might not help, but if it’s more common when you’ve just had a fight, or when you’re very busy, or when there are money troubles, that might help you understand.

If you help your partner take care of whatever needs they have that are driving them to have sex in Second Life, whether or not they know that’s what you’re doing, they will probably stop on their own even if you don’t confront them. Having an intimate virtual relationship with someone when it doesn’t really supply anything they’re not already getting in First Life isn’t appealing to most people.

Of course, not confronting your partner means you would be dealing with the two problems separately: first the problems that led to the cheating, and second the problems the cheating has caused. Sooner or later you’ll need to talk about it openly, or at least most couples will, in order to be able to move on, unless your partner manages to demonstrate their love for you so profoundly and movingly that all of your misgivings about their former infidelity melt away and you don’t care. Since this is not too likely, sooner or later your partner needs to own up to what they have done, admit wrongdoing, and apologize. If you’re convinced they were wrong and they’re not eventually willing to do this, you’re at a standstill, and individual or couples counseling might help.

If they do apologize, sincerely, several times, and if they stop, accept the apology. Don’t make them apologize over and over for the rest of their life. Figure out what it is *you* need to feel closure and get that. Relationships where one person feels like they’re no longer an equal are doomed.

All of this might leave a bad taste in your mouth as regards Second Life, and if so, who can blame you? For some couples, one of the first things that needs to happen is for your partner to stop using Second Life completely and perhaps permanently. This would be painful, but it would be a real sign of commitment and willingness to move forward. If this happens, I hope you can find it in your heart to be supportive of your partner writing a private (from you) goodbye to their Second Life paramour. That person may have a close emotional attachment to your partner, and a little generosity toward them can remind you of your emotional strength and help ease the pain toward someone who probably never meant you any harm, and may not even have known their virtual lover was cheating.

In other cases, your partner ending their Second Life may not be the best idea, even though of course the Second Life relationship needs to end. Second Life may well be answering other needs they have that have nothing to do with infidelity, helping your relationship in ways you can appreciate, for instance by providing friendly, platonic companionship when you have to be away. Your partner may have to come back as a new avatar and start afresh, or may have to simply reform their Second Life self. Of course their staying in Second Life is a potential source of concern and trouble for both of you, so I hope it’s a decision you’ll make together.

A lot of what I’ve just said assumes that both of you want to fix your relationship, and that it’s fixable. If it isn’t, at least addressing this issue can help you both understand where you really stand, and if the relationship needs to end, that means the infidelity is ending too, and you can move on with your life.

I hope all of this is some help to anyone whose partner is cheating on them in Second Life, or that at least it gets you to find some kind of help or way forward. Please do remember that I’m not an accredited expert of any kind on this subject, even if I think I understand a lot about First Life and Second Life relationships. There might be someone who has written something or who can help you in person much better than I can, and if so, I hope you find them soon. And I hope that you and your partner can move past the present problems and both grow closer and more fulfilled. One of the things that can make a relationship stronger is for two people to come through a crisis together. This is a crisis, but that also means it can work to both of your advantage, in the end. Good luck, hon. I’m rooting for you.

^^^\ Kate /^^^