Sexting refers to sexual messages over text. They may be implicit or explicit, written or photographs. They may be flirtatious and edgy or direct and sexual/erotic. They are intended as flirty play that may or may not lead to an in-person sexual encounter.
How would you handle it if you found explicit messages on your partner’s phone and realized that they were sexting someone else? Is it okay to sext with someone who isn’t your steady partner?
For some, sexting is clearly cheating; for some, it is acceptable as long as there is no in-person encounter. Sometimes boundaries in relationships are fuzzy and ambiguous, especially when not defined and explicitly talked about by the couple. The important thing is to define what your partner’s sexting means to you and your vision of the relationship.
Discussing sexting can be a difficult conversation, but remember that avoiding short-term difficult conversations often invites long-term dysfunction.
Here are some questions to ask yourself if you just found out your partner is sexting someone else and need help thinking through your next steps.
How do you feel about your partner sexting someone else?
In other words, do you feel cheated on after finding your partner’s sexts? Does this discovery make you curious rather than jealous? Or something in between? Even if you and your partner have never discussed sexting specifically before, try to get clarity on this for yourself.
Some may find that a sexual fling is forgivable if there is no emotional intimacy involved. Others may feel emotional intimacy is permissible if there is no sex in person or otherwise. Others still may feel just sexting is not a big deal without physical intimacy, or the feelings of attachment that come from an emotional affair — they may consider sexting to be on the same level as watching porn. Definitely not a fun thing to discover, but also not the end of the world.
Others might see sexting as a deep betrayal. Realizing that their partner shared intimate photos and secret fantasies with another person erodes all trust as they feel an essential boundary has been crossed.
There are other ways to look at it, too. Maybe you don’t feel betrayed, but it makes you wonder what your partner felt they were missing. Or perhaps you both had agreed to open the relationship, but seeing the details of your partner’s exploration affects you more than you thought it would.
You and your partner’s views on sexting might be different, or they might be the same. Neither is “right” or “wrong.” Things like conservative vs. liberal thinking, one’s upbringing, religious beliefs, and experience with other cultures can all affect our thinking on the subject in different ways.
Regardless, dig deeper to identify what’s behind your emotions in this moment. It will prove to be helpful understanding yourself, and in trying to articulate your position, feelings, needs etc. to your partner.
What else does sexting bring up for you?
Sometimes, a sexting discovery reveals other unhealthy dynamics between the couple, such as unmet needs, ineffective communication, etc. Additionally, if there are feelings of betrayal, an unhealthy outcome could be that sexting hangs over the relationship for years to come. They might continue to bring it up in every argument going forward — even ones that have nothing to do with sexting.
What’s really going on here? The possibilities are endless, but here’s an example: Maybe the partner who found the sexts felt powerless in the relationship for a long time. The sexts become “ammunition” that puts them into a power position. Suddenly, resolving the issue isn’t the priority. Maintaining their newfound “power” over their partner is. Hanging this incident over their partner’s head secretly gives them a sense of control and security.
Hidden agendas and other covert patterns can slow down your recovery after discovering betrayal such as sexting. See if you can identify hidden dynamics, though it can be difficult.
This brings us to the last question.
Can psychotherapy help?
If you’ve found out your partner is sexting someone else, consider getting therapy together. Aside from unpacking your relationship dynamics, it can also:
- Help you work through the hurt and loss of trust you may be experiencing
- Provide structure to help establish timelines and truths
- Add accountability
- Help process and validate your feelings
Even if the sexting didn’t come as a surprise to you, a therapist can help guide sensitive conversations.
Of course, it is important to feel physically and emotionally safe enough to have a joint session with your partner. Alternatively, you could share with a close friend you trust. No matter what you choose, just remember to be kind to yourself and trust your gut.
FREE CONSULTATION: Call us today at 949-229-2715 or email email@example.com for more information. Psychotherapy services and couples retreats are offered throughout the week and on weekends. We do not do group work.