As hard as it has been for Jay, one year later he reports that tech tools are helping. Ann’s affair grew out of her sense of neglect, Jay told me: “She wasn’t getting the attention she wanted from me, so she found someone else to give it to her.” To strengthen their bond, Jay and Ann have started using Couple, a relationship app geared toward promoting intimacy by setting up a private line of communication for texts, pics, video clips, and, of course, updates on each person’s whereabouts. Every now and again, Jay sneaks a peek at Find My iPhone. He also has set his iPad to receive copies of Ann’s texts. “I don’t know if she realizes I’m doing that,” he told me. But in general, she understands his desire for extra oversight. “She’s like, ‘Whatever you want.’ ”
In fact, post-affair surveillance seems to be an increasingly popular counseling prescription. Even as marriage and family therapists take a dim view of unprovoked snooping, once the scent of infidelity is in the air, many become enthusiastically pro-snooping—initially to help uncover the truth about a partner’s behavior but then to help couples reconcile by reestablishing accountability and trust. The psychotherapist and syndicated columnist Barton Goldsmith says he often advocates virtual monitoring in the aftermath of an affair. Even if a spouse never exercises the option of checking up, having it makes him or her feel more secure. “It’s like a digital leash.”
And that can be a powerful deterrent, says Frank, whose wife of 37 years learned of his fondness for hookers last February, after he forgot to close an e‑mail exchange with an escort. “He had set up a Gmail account I had no idea he had,” Carol, his wife, told me. Frank tried to convince her that the e-mails were just spam, even after she pointed out that the exchange included his cell number and photos of him.
Frank agreed to marriage counseling and enrolled in a 12-step program for sexual addiction. Carol now tracks his phone and regularly checks messages on both his phone and his computer. Still, she told me sadly, “I don’t think that I’m ever going to get the whole story. I believe he thinks that if I know everything, the marriage will come to an end.”
For his part, Frank—who comes across as a gruff, traditional sort of guy, uneasy sharing his feelings even with his wife—calls Carol’s discovery of his betrayal “excruciating,” but he mostly seems angry at the oversexed culture that he feels landed him in this mess. He grumbles about how “the ease and the accessibility and the anonymity of the Internet” made it “entirely too easy” for him to feed his addiction.
Frank has clearly absorbed some of the language and lessons of therapy. “As well as it is a learned behavior to act out, it is a learned behavior not to,” he told me. He doesn’t much like his wife’s having total access to his phone, but he claims that his sole concern is for the privacy of others in his 12-step group, who text one another for support. Frank himself clearly feels the tug of his digital leash. “Now that she checks my phone and computer, I have a deterrent.”
Even as he calls virtual surveillance “a powerful tool,” though, Frank also declares it a limited one. No matter how clever the technology becomes, there will always be work-arounds. For someone looking to stray, “absolutely nothing is going to stop it,” says Frank, emphatically. “Nothing.”
* The original version of this article stated incorrectly that TigerText and CoverMe market themselves as tools for cheaters and jealous spouses.