My partner is sexting someone else - should I end the relationship?

Relate relationship counsellor Ammanda Major Relate considers what to do if you find your partner sending illicit texts

Ammanda Major
Sunday 21 August 2022 20:27 BST

The reality has hit you - your partner has been sending illicit texts to someone else. Finding out that your other half has been sexting when you thought your relationship was going well is a horrible situation to be in. The feelings of shock and betrayal are likely to leave you asking yourself and your partner a lot of questions.

But is sexting actually betrayal? Some might argue that sexting is only a sign of being human and having fun. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to end up actually doing anything sexual with the other person – so what’s the harm? But that view won't wash for most people who require commitment and honesty from their partner.

Sexting is increasingly popular amongst adults and can be a fun way to enhance your sex life with your partner. The Way We Are Now 2015 study by Relate, Marriage Care and Relationships Scotland found that over 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 percent of people who sexted had done so within the confines of a relationship, 12 percent had sexted in a relationship where cheating had taken place.

So what are you supposed to do if you catch your partner sexting somebody else? First be certain that it's actually happening. In some relationships, accusations of sexting cause frequent rows even though the partner being accused hasn’t actually been up to anything. Accusing them of sexting is just one way of showing them how bad we might be feeling. So before any of us launch in to a tirade against a partner about what we imagine they’ve been up to, let’s be clear what we are basing our concerns on.

Let’s assume that you’ve got the ‘evidence’ - baring in mind that going through a person'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’s 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. So, letting your partner 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 or vice versa 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 is likely to be ‘why’?

They may tell themselves it doesn’t count as cheating although many would argue that it does

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For people who sext, it tends to be curiosity and maybe boredom with the hum drum of everyday life that makes sexting an attractive distraction. The need to feel desired can be a big motivator too. One of the main problems when sexting happens outside of the relationship is that you find it has a different meaning for each of you. 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 way to start off ending the relationship.

So, however angry and upset you are, it’s important to have a full and frank discussion about what’s happened and why. Until you both understand this and what you both want from your relationship it is going to be difficult to know whether it is worth working at. Although it is tempting to forgive and try to forget, the truth is that repeated episodes are only going to undermine your confidence in yourself and in the relationship. In some cases, and particularly if it’s not the first time this has happened, ending things may be the best option.

On the other hand, an episode like this may make your partner realise just how important you are to them. You may want to suggest to your partner that you go for relationship counselling to address any underlying issues. Counsellors often help relationships to recover from incidents of sexting and even full blown affairs. It takes time to rebuild trust but hopefully you can reach a point again where you will feel confident that the only sexts your partner is sending are to you.

Ammanda Major is a Senior Consultant on Sex Therapy at Relate and also write’s the charity’s regular agony aunt column, Ask Ammanda.

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