The Internet is altering patterns of Social Communication and Interpersonal Relationships. Whitty (2005) looked at the impact Cyber Cheating had on Couple Relationships and found many partners felt that online infidelity contributed to the break-up of their relationship. It is suggested that couples be clearer about the rules in their relationship, and not to keep online activities a secret. Some research suggest that ‘Men like the Internet for the experience of cybersex’ while ’Women like it for the interaction chat rooms’. Whitty (2004) found that men were more likely to initiate contact offline with women they were attracted to online. Impressions formed online are very different to those offline.
Impact on Couples
Research has found that ‘sexual intimacy’ among couples is greatly affected by the use of Cybersex by a partner. Some described their’ Relationship was falling apart’. Many partners expressed concern being exposed to Cybersex by coming across links to ’Pornography’ on the Internet. Some partners expressed a loss of respect for the user and a change in their feelings towards him, ’The user is less of a man in their eyes’. Some partners talked about a lack of trust and unreliability. According to Whitty (2005) she argues that although the actual physical self is not present in Cybersex online Cybersex activity can have a real impact on the Couples offline Relationship. The partner of a Cybersex user goes through a sequence of responses to the users ongoing involvement with Cybersex Activity. Some researchers would argue that some partners feel that Cybersex is ‘Real Sex’ and have the same impact on an offline Relationship, as if one’s partner is having sex with someone else in reality.
Sexual Addiction and the Couple Relationship
One study demonstrated how Sexual Addiction affects the Couple Relationship, by interviewing partners of users of Cybersex. All Partners interviewed had mixed views about Sexual Addiction describing some partners concerns that user is spending many hours a day looking at Cybersex and is angry that the time spent on Cybersex Activity is time taken from partner and children, another worried that the user’s behaviour was leading towards Sexual Addiction, if not already Addicted. There was some reluctance on the part of some aggrieved partners to accept that Cybersex user may be Sexually Addicted.
Behaviours that can lead to a concept of Addiction
- Hiding the behaviour
- Lack of Acceptance
- Increased time spent engaging in the behaviour
- Reduced contact hours with the family
- The experience of fear of Addiction on behalf of the partner
- Denial of Addiction on behalf of user
- Confusion about what denotes Sexual Addiction
However many excessive users of Cybersex are not necessarily Cybersex Addicted. Some research suggests that Sexual Addiction can be a symptom of other problems eg Depression.
How some partners feel about the Cybersex user
- Some partners feel that Cybersex Activity constitutes ‘Real Sex’ and regards it as Infidelity. Others described being ‘Horrified at Cybersex users Activity’.
- Other aggrieved partners feel ‘Low Self Esteem’ and’ Low Self Worth’ and a feeling of not being ‘Good Enough’.
- A number of partners reported that they could not remain in the relationship and it is additionally complicated by their fear of their children coming across ‘Pornography’ on the Internet.
Counsellors Approach to working with Cybersex Activity
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Reality Therapy, and Motivational Interviewing are the Models used in working with this activity. Experience and skill are extremely important while working with couples who present with Cybersex Issues. Communication is paramount so that both Counsellor and Couple can understand each other and can develop a’ Therapeutic Relationship’ based on good Communication, so that a working relationship is established and Positive Change can come about.
As with any Complex Phenomena, online Sexual Activity is neither good nor bad. Cooper et al (1999) suggests that it is the way that people use it that determines whether it will enhance peoples lives, or result in serious adverse consequences.
Family conflict whether before during or after separation or divorce, is particularly stressful for children, who may respond by becoming anxious aggressive or withdrawn. Children find conflict difficult and very distressing and it is very important to keep children away from it.
One of the most damaging things is when parents use children as go-between. It is important to avoid that kind of conflict. Children can recover from their separation or divorce if it was settled amicably and with understanding. Where parents argue or use their children as pawns in their games this can cause tremendous damage.
Children and parents should have access to professional support at the time of separation. Help for parents going through a separation will make it easier for them to help their children. If children are to be protected against the kind of disadvantages identified by research then they and their parents will need better information and support before, during and after separation.
Children and adolescents can be caught up in their parents conflict, the consequences include:
- Children can experience a huge sense of loss.
- They often feel abnormal, with an abnormal family.
- Anger with one or other or both parents for the split-up.
- They sometimes feel that they are responsible for their parents split-up.
- They often feel a sense of rejection.
- They may feel a longing for a return to normality with both parents living together.
- Some children, when the marriage or partnership has been hostile or violent, may be relieved or have mixed feelings when it finally ends.
Problems that may result from the child or adolescent being brought into their parents fighting and distress
- Children often feel torn because loyalty to one parent may be seen as betrayal by the other.
- Some children or Adolescents feel that they are not allowed to love both parents or be loved by both.
- Sometimes the children or Adolescents can identify with the parent who is at fault.
- Very often Children can be used as a weapon by one parent or other.
- Living with a parent who is so consumed with anger or distressed, that there is no one offering the children much parenting or support.
The Principles Guiding Separating or Divorcing Parents
- Openness and communication so that the children or adolescents not only knows what is going on, but feels it is ok to ask questions.
- Reassurance that he or she is still loved by both parents and will be cared for.
- Parents making time to be available to the child or Adolescent.
- Conveying to the children clearly that while the parents are interested in the child’s view, it is they who are responsible for decisions.
- Continuing the usual activities and routines eg Seeing friends and members of the extended family, and making as little changes as possible this helps the child to feel life can continue as normal, and provides support for the children or adolescents.
How can parents help their child or adolescent
- It is important for parents who are splitting up to ensure that they continue to have an ongoing relationship with his or her partner so that they can deal with parenting issues.
- The parents must take on the responsibility for what is happening as theirs and be clear about this to the young person.
- Parents must regard their role as protecting their children from adult matters and adult responsibilities.
- Parents need to be sensitive to how each child may be affected,and how he or she may be feeling or reacting.
- It is important for parents to consider ways of minimising the trauma for the child, and to make sure they feel safe, secure and confident that problems can be sorted.
- Parents need to discuss between themselves how issues between them may be affecting the children.
Let me know what you think or if you have any questions at all please leave a comment.
Some research suggests that children would actually prefer their parents to stay together rather than get divorced. One wonders if the children interviewed mean that they would prefer if their parents could live together happily with none of the ongoing fighting. This is a very different situation, rather than just staying together, living in an atmosphere of rows, coldness and stress is awful for children to live in.
While Parents very often decide to remain together for the sake of the children, they can start resenting them for keeping them in a cold loveless existence. The children may in turn blame themselves quite correctly for being part of the cause of their parents disagreements. Their parents unspoken words “we are staying together because it’s best for you” can hang over the children’s lives like the “elephant in the room”. Parents do not speak it but convey it with their “body language” and behaviour.
Are Parents really staying together for the sake of the children? Or could it be that one or other parent does not really want to Separate or Divorce and is really scared of being on their own? Or have they always been so wrapped up in their children, that they selfishly put their own desires first rather than acting in a way terrible as it feels to begin with, may well be the best decision for the children in the long run.
It may be much better for the children if their parents can remain friends or at least on speaking terms in a way that there are no rows about access or using the children as a “go-between”, which results in the children feeling caught in the middle of a tug-of-war. That they should remain together and live in an atmosphere of hostility.
The parents might be much better off going to a Couple Counsellor, not to try to fix the Relationship, but to get help to find ways to Separate in a friendly and amicable way.
For a child, second to having their parents happily together, is to have parents happily apart. Peace and harmony are what they are after and how this is achieved whether in the same house or separate is not really important.
As individuals each parent can grow and will be able to give their children love and attention. Naturally children want their parents to stay together but “not at any price”.