Computer Widows and Widowers: How to Rescue Your Marriage from Virtual Destruction

There is perhaps no greater area impacted by the abuse of the Internet than marriage and relationships. Most of the cases I been consulted on in my practice have been related to Internet addiction and on-line affairs.

Take the case of Mark and Joanne. They are a middle age couple married for nearly 15 years with 3 healthy children. Both are educated professionals and own a business together. They were financially stable and lead the “good” life by most standards. But something was quite wrong in their marriage, so much so that I received an emergency phone call asking if I could see them as soon as possible.

When I first met Mark and Joanne they appeared to be quite amiable, almost happy. However, I was to find out that appearances could be deceptive. Mark told me that they were having real problem in their marriage; it was serious, but is a covert and insidious problem, which could be, done in isolation from your spouse. What her told me was that Joanne had been spending an inordinate amount of time on-line in chat rooms and developed what appeared to be relationships with men on-line. He believed, and Joanne supported this, that she was having on-line relationships with several men, and some of which were becoming quite intimate.

What Joanne had stumbled onto was a new and growing abuse of the Internet: Cyberaffairs and cybersex. She and Mark had begun to grow apart as he spent more and more time on the business, and began to neglect his wife’s emotional needs. The less attention he paid, the more needy Joanne became. Eventually,

Joanne began to fulfill her emotional needs on-line with the people she met, and these relationships began to grow and develop. Mark began to notice the amount of attention Joanne was paying to her computer, which by now was several hours a day! This is no means unusual; many of the couples I’ve interviewed or received emails from indicate that they or their spouse was spending greater and greater amount of time on-line, in some extreme case 10-12 hours a day!

The problem of Internet abuse here was really secondary to the problems in the marriage. Often the Internet becomes an easy detour for marital problems, as it offers easy access to men and women who are eager to talk, relates and at time have sex on and off-line! In mark and Joanne’s case the contact seemed to be limited to cyberflirting, but was clearly escalating as the conversations became more intimate. The problem with the Intranet is that the combination of accessibility, ease of access, availability, low cost, anonymity, and disinhibition produce a powerful place to run when the home fires begin to smolder. The net is always there, in your home. It is an available friend 24 hours a day and in some cases is more reliable than a spouse. No wonder that cyberaffairs and cybersex have become significant problems in some marriages.

In some cases I’ve treated they prove to be the downfall of the marriage. In some many cases the cyberaffair progresses to point where phone and personal contact is made. So what starts out as a simple on-line friendship, can easily become a full-blown affair!

©1998 by Dr. Dave Greenfield