‘I thought my partner was having an online affair, but then I realised there was more to it’

Tell Me About It: He has been seeing doctors online, in many countries, on almost a weekly basis due to his anxiety about his health


I am writing because I can no longer manage my partner’s cyber health anxiety. I was not fully aware of it until we moved in together, and for a long time, he kept it hidden and the full scale of it did not emerge until I was at the point of leaving.

At first, I thought he was having an online affair with someone else as so much of his time was spent on the internet, to the extent that he brought his laptop into the loo with him and spent what felt like hours in there. I even woke up at night to find him on his laptop in the dark. It was not until he said he could not afford to go out for (reasonably priced) dinners anymore, that I began to suspect that there was more to this than I had thought.

We had a big showdown and it emerged that he has been seeing doctors online (in many countries) on almost a weekly basis and has had numerous investigations about health issues. He has sent away for online packs to check on all kinds of things and I have noticed that he is in terrible form and full of paranoia almost on a 24/7 basis. He felt very justified during Covid, and it seemed his obsessiveness around cleanliness and infection was matched by the world’s approach to life, but now that life has returned to normal, he has not adjusted accordingly.

No amount of reassurance seems to calm him, and this is having a terrible effect on all parts of our life together, including our sex life. Romantically, we bonded over being gay and coming from a small-town background, and initially it felt like we understood each other perfectly, but now it is such a struggle to even share a half hour of fun and closeness. Everything seems to trigger him, and I am getting impatient and have run out of steam, but I don’t want to leave him in such a mess.




You are both suffering and some intervention is needed so that things don’t deteriorate further. The internet can really feed into someone’s obsessive compulsive tendencies, and this can rapidly create a situation of extreme paranoia and lead to a crisis. Your partner needs help urgently, but judging from your letter they are going from GP to GP with a variety of symptoms which do not include their online behaviour.

For your partner, going online may initially offer relief as he finds solace in finding his problems discussed and taken seriously. However, the internet will always offer a huge spectrum of advice which in turn may re-enforce his health anxiety to the extent that it now occupies more and more of his life. That he keeps his behaviour hidden shows that he is somewhat aware of the difficulty, and this is something that you might use to help support him to get the right help. A GP who is aware of the situation is crucial so you might agree with your partner that he picks only one GP that he is willing to work with and that you might accompany him to a consultation so that he does not minimise the condition he has. If you are successful in this, the GP will make treatment options that might include medication, psychological support and/or referral to a psychiatrist who specialises in OCD.

It is extremely unlikely that you and your partner will be able to manage this condition on your own so, if he refuses to take the above action, you may need to call in reinforcements. Are his family a source of support? Close lifelong friends or relatives could also be called on to bolster the circle of influence and support. In fact, there may already be a history of knowledge of his condition and perhaps some interventions in the past have worked and could be used again.

What will not work is managing this situation without professional and community support, so you will need to reach out for help, and this may trigger even more obsessive behaviour in the short term. At all times you will need to be reassuring of your love and concern for your partner so your thoughts of possible break-up should be put to one side, at least until there is a support system in place. You know that he is overcome with this condition and that if it were to be managed properly, he will have a chance to emerge from under the paranoia and internet obsession that is so taking him away from you.

Part of his treatment will be limiting or even ending his use of the internet for some time, and this will require you to also limit or curtail your own use of online platforms until the situation is more stable. This will require you to be generous and kind (essential requirements for any relationship) while keeping your own resentments and frustrations at bay.

You might find, in your own attempt to cut back on use of laptop and phone, that you have more compassion for your partner as you find out just how much you are attached to these devices yourself.