When cyber relationships threaten a real life relationship

With increased access to the internet and more and more time spent online, there is an increased opportunity for internet relationships to become a threat to actual real life relationships, whether the threat is real or imagined.  Very often, people turn to online activities as a way to relieve boredom or as a way to find social interaction.  Another form of online entertainment is the exploding area of internet pornography.

When one person in a relationship becomes excessively involved with spending time on the computer the other person in the relationship can feel  left out.  Problems and conflicts can arise and soon the life of the relationship is in question.  Couples who are faced with questions and issues of online infidelity often turn to couple and marriage counselling or to an individual therapist for guidance.

Access to the internet

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 68 percent of residents have internet access and this percentage is fast growing. Out of the 68 percent of residents, 78 percent of these have access to broadband internet and the Federal Government has recently commenced work on expanding this to ensure that broadband internet will soon be available to the entire population.  Clearly, the internet has come to stay in most Australian homes.  Of course the internet does have exceptional value – it is an immense communication network, it can provide easy access to educational information, it is a way for families spread over long distances to remain in contact, and it is a wonderful way to connect socially with people from all over the world. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)

Indeed, using the internet as a tool for social interaction is becoming more and more prominent in the way we engage with others, both locally and across the globe. Social interaction sites like Facebook, Twitter and various online chat rooms are becoming social phenomenas which enable people to meet and form online relationships.

The internet also offers gaming fanatics the opportunity to make real social connections within a virtual cyber-world. In these 3D virtual worlds, a person can create their own virtual character, endow it with skills and a personality, and interact with others in a way which can sometimes create intense and very emotional attachments.  Some of these websites even include the ability to have cybersex and become cyber-married.  These marriages are not legal, of course, but the emotional impact can still be quite substantial.

Another aspect of the internet – and an extremely significant aspect in so far as it can affect relationships – is online pornography sites.  Porn sites can be as benign as animae (cartoon) drawings and animated movies about sexual activities, and as involved as having girls and guys in private rooms who perform sexual activities on webcams where they can also interact with customers directly via microphones.  In extreme cases, watching internet pornography can become almost a full time activity for some people.

What is internet or online infidelity?

Internet infidelity occurs when one person within a relationship becomes emotionally involved with someone else through an online connection. The person may have actively been seeking an online relationship, or a relationship may have developed through innocent online discussion. Often, the online relationship is restricted to online activity and the parties will never meet. At other times, the parties may agree to meet and a real life, intimate relationship may result.
Either way, online infidelity becomes apparent when the emotional attachment between the parties is such that it starts to interfere with your real-life relationship in a damaging way.

Online infidelity can also occur through the excessive use, by one party in the relationship, of internet pornography. If you are spending a great deal of your time watching videos of other people having sex, but your own sex life is suffering from lack of attention, then in all likelihood, your activity will be causing problems within your relationship. If you are watching pornography to the extent that it is excluding your real life partner from your sexual life, then your interest in pornography is likely having a negative impact on your relationship. In these circumstance, you may wish to start questioning the underlying reasons for your extensive pornography use. An experienced counsellor or psychologist can help you address these questions.

Likewise, if you are spending a great deal of time on 3D virtual worlds or in chat rooms where you are developing what feel like deeply intense emotional relationships, these relationships will undoubtedly start to impact on your feelings about your real life relationship and you may soon find yourself engaged in a form of online infidelity. Remember, the person on the other side of that chat room or pretend avatar can be someone completely different from what they are projecting on the screen. Without the visual verification of who they are and what they are, you may, in fact, be falling in love with a projection that has nothing to do with who they really are as a person. In essence, you may be putting your real life relationship in jeopardy for an illusion.

What is online projection?

Unfortunately, very often we turn to online relationships as a way to fill a void in our own lives.  We may feel lonely or feel that we are not getting enough attention from our spouse or partner at home.  It is certainly easy enough to pop into an online chat room or create a character in a virtual world and begin to connect with people annonymously.  However, we do not really know who those people are, including their actual gender, physical attributes, where they live or anything else about them.

We may begin to see things in them that we wish our real-life partner had and would share with us.  Those attributes are usually the characteristics we search for most in our real life partner, but feel, for whatever reason, are unavailable to us.  What we are feeling about our new online friend likely has nothing to do with who they are as an actual person, and everything to do with what we actually want in our own lives. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)

Sadly, real life relationships become damaged, sometimes irreparably, because of online relationships that are built on ghosts and dreams.  At some point our real life spouse or partner is going to ask us to make a choice between the online relationship and them.  This is the point where many couples turn for help from a professional counsellor, psychologist or relationship counsellor.

Vince and Marny

Vince has been thrilled when he discovered how to access internet porn several years ago, especially the amateur ones. He and Marny had been married several years and while they still loved each other a great deal, the spark had gone out of their sex life. He found himself spending more and more time watching amateur porn, especially the ones where the woman was willing to do all of the things that Vince fantasised about. Then he discovered an online virtual world where he could create his own character and find others who would willingly have online sex with him all the time! It was phenomenal and exciting. He couldn’t understand why Marny was starting to get upset when he talked about the website and all the really sexy people on the site.

Marny for her part hadn’t minded when Vince was online looking at porn from time to time. After all, what guy didn’t watch porn? She hadn’t even minded so much when he would ask her to come watch the amateur videos. They were interesting and even a bit exciting. She wouldn’t mind trying some of those things, just not in front of a camera! When she became really concerned was when Vince suddenly started spending all of his free time on this virtual site, especially when he would talk over and over about how sexy his new friend “Cindy” was and how much he adored her sexy look and how great she was at sex. Marny couldn’t get over the fact that Vince was enthralled with an imaginary person and was having fantasy sex instead of sex with his real life wife who wanted to be with him! She was desperately afraid she was losing her husband to a pretend world where she had no chance of competing.

How can counselling help online infidelity?

A professional relationship counsellor can help a couple discover the underlying reason for why one partner – Vince in our example – might be spending so much time online to the extent that they exclude their real life partner.  The counsellor or psychologist can help the couple understand what projection is and how damaging it can be to become emotionally involved with an online character that does not really exist but still poses a threat to the real relationship.  In addition an experienced couples or relationship counsellor can offer assistance by:

Improving Communication Skills – By learning to openly express our needs and be heard, problems like those that Marny and Vince experienced can often be avoided.  Communication is not something we automatically know how to do effectively, and a counsellor can improve this skill tremendously.

Teach about Boundaries and Limits – Most counsellors would agree that spending time online in and of itself is probably not a bad thing.  But with most things in life, there should be boundaries and limits to almost every activity.  A professional counsellor, psychologist or relationship therapist can help a couple learn about where and how to set boundaries with each other that can help them as a couple.

Help a Couple Reconnect – Couples are a couple for a reason.  Usually, those qualities that we found so wonderful at the beginning of the relationships still exist; they have just become buried under years of emotional burdening.  A relationship counsellor can help a couple reconnect and uncover those wonderful things about each other and even find new ones to help them rejoin and become a stronger couple.

Online infidelity is more about emotional needs not being met than physical infidelity.  It is an event in a couple’s life that is a signal flare that something is wrong and needs tending before the relationship really does explode and become completely damaged beyond repair.

How to seek help for online infidelity relationship problems

If you or someone you know is having problems with online infidelity or online porn addiction, a relationship counsellor, psychologist or therapist may be able to help.  They can help you or your friend identify what is driving the need for your online relationships, help improve communication skills and bring a couple back together so that they are stronger and more deeply committed to the relationship. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)

If you or someone you know is struggling with these or similar problems and would like to book a consultation with a qualified counsellor or would like to obtain further advice please contact:

Associated Counselors & Psychologists Sydney

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