In a week when MPs have been focusing attention on ‘sexting’, and other sexual pressures, in schools, there’s also been a timely reminder that ‘sexting’ can be prevalent in all relationships, across the age spectrum.
For people who ‘sext’, says Relate counsellor Ammanda Major, it tends to be curiosity and maybe boredom with the humdrum of everyday life that makes it an attractive distraction. “The need to feel desired can be a big motivator too,” she says.
When one partner in a relationship is found to be ‘sexting’ someone outside the relationship, it can have “a different meaning” for each of them, says Ammanda.
“For the one who’s just found out what’s happening, it’s usually a big deal. Not many treat it as a passing irritation. For the one who’s doing it, they may think it’s not doing any harm. They may tell themselves it doesn’t count as cheating, although many would argue that it does. “Another common theme is the partner using this experience as a way to start ending the relationship.”
Finding out that your other half has been ‘sexting’ someone when you thought your relationship was going well is a horrible situation to be in, says the counsellor. “The feelings of shock and betrayal are likely to leave you asking yourself and your partner a lot of questions.”
Is it a betrayal?
Is ‘sexting’ betrayal? Some argue that ‘sexting’ is only a sign of being human and having fun. It doesn’t mean that you will end up actually doing anything physically sexual with the other person, they argue, so what’s the harm? But that view doesn’t wash for many people who expect commitment and honesty from their partner.
What’s certain is that ‘sexting’ is increasing among not just young people but adults as well.
Within a relationship it’s often a fun way to enhance your sex life with your partner. One study, The Way We Are Now 2015, by Relate, Marriage Care and Relationships Scotland found that more than half of 16 to 34-year-olds said that sending sexy or flirtatious messages and pictures had a positive impact on their relationship.
However, just as technology can enhance our relationships, it also presents risks. One Canadian study found that whilst 75% of people who ‘sexted’ had done so within a relationship, 12% had ‘sexted’ in a situation where cheating took place.
So what are you supposed to do if you catch your partner ‘sexting’ somebody else?
First, says the counsellor, be certain that it’s actually happening. In some relationships, ‘sexting’ accusations will cause rows, even though the accused partner hasn’t actually been up to anything. Accusing your partner of ‘sexting’ can be just one way of showing your partner how bad we might be feeling.
Let’s assume, however, that you’ve got the ‘evidence’ – bearing in mind that going through your partner’s phone can be seen as a betrayal of trust.
Do you have a screaming row? Do you feel angry and upset but decide to say nothing and hope it goes away? Or perhaps you put it down to the stress your partner has been under recently and that, of course, it won’t happen again. Maybe you blame the ‘sextee’ – the one they’ve been engaging with.
Relationship counsellors often see couples where the one who feels betrayed puts the transgression down to the conniving ways of the ‘sextee’. Somehow they’ve lured their partner into this behaviour and are entirely responsible. Most counsellors though would try to help the couple to see that a person is rarely made to do this. Enabling your partner to take responsibility for their part of the deal is important.
You might also feel you want full disclosure. This means asking your partner to be really honest about how far it has gone. It is obvious that sometimes ‘sexting’ gets followed up by actually meeting that person and for most partners, this would be far more serious. Most people would want to know how long it’s been going on and if there have been other ‘sextees’ in the past.
But the most helpful question we can ask in counselling is likely to be ‘why’?
If you would like to talk with one of our counsellors in confidence, either with your partner or separately, give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.