I caught my girlfriend sexting to a stranger online

Your girlfriend needs to be honest about whether she has developed some sort of dependency on virtual sex, says Suzi Godson.

Q. I caught my girlfriend sending revealing pictures of herself to someone she found online. 

They haven’t met up, and apparently never had any intention to do so. She says it was just a bit of fun that she now regrets. 

Is she not getting enough from our sex life? How can we get over this?

A. You have every reason to feel betrayed. Your girlfriend may not believe that sexting constitutes infidelity, but she is one of very few adults who holds that opinion. 

In a 2013 YouGov survey (UK), 85% of women and 74% of men said that they considered sexting to be a form of cheating. 

The fact that they hadn’t “met up” is not an excuse.

Whether your girlfriend intended to take things farther or not, her behaviour demonstrates a lack of commitment. 

When you are in a relationship you value, with a person you respect, you don’t chase cheap thrills with strangers you meet online. 

Don’t rule out the possibility that she may have an underlying problem with sexting or porn.

There are several theories as to why men and women cheat, but the most common justifications are deficits in the primary relationship or the opportunistic discovery of a more suitable partner. 

In reality, most people probably use both these excuses simultaneously.

Whether digital or in the flesh, it presents a serious challenge to the primary relationship and the “victim” (you) generally feels as though there are only two options available to them. 

The first is to punish the person who has hurt them by cutting them out of their life. This is a popular option, largely because it allows the “victim” to maintain a degree of dignity in the immediate aftermath of the break-up.

The other option, which is equally unsatisfactory, is to try to make the situation go away by brushing it under the carpet. 

Being cheated on is always a knife to the heart, but some people would prefer to believe in fairies than tackle a truth that threatens their status, their identity and their individual world order.

Denial can work to a certain extent, but unresolved feelings of anger and hurt are rarely content to stay beneath the rug. They generally rear their head anyway, which will eventually kill the relationship.

There is another way, but repairing a damaged relationship is difficult and no one gets to point the finger, or play the victim, so it’s not a popular option. 

Both partners also need to be completely committed and willing to put retribution and antagonism to one side, so that they can be honest about their individual contributions to the situation. 

Before you begin in earnest, your girlfriend needs to acknowledge her betrayal, and she needs to be honest about whether she has developed some sort of dependency on virtual sex. 

If she has, you may not be able to help her. 

But if this genuinely was a one-off, she needs to apologise sincerely and then delete every image or sext on her phone or computer. 

She also needs to agree to let you routinely check her phone, whenever you ask, until you can trust her again.

You, meanwhile, need to acknowledge legitimate reasons that might explain why she began sexting. Be prepared for home truths, try not to get defensive and resist the temptation to argue. 

She may tell you that there are things she would like that you have previously been unwilling to incorporate into sex. She may say that you don’t pay her enough attention, or that you neglect her sexual and emotional needs.

These conversations are tough and they are bound to make you feel vulnerable. 

However, if the two of you can identify the issues that triggered her online search for sexual excitement and figure out ways to address them, this mess might prove to be an important turning point.

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