Increasingly, couples are citing the internet as a problem in their relationship.

Signs that a partner may be in a relationship over the internet

  • They spend more and more time on the internet particularly on social media or forums.
  • They try to hide information from you.
  • They have difficulty in not logging on during the day.
  • They become distant, secretive or even critical of you.

Warning signs that you may be at risk of having an online affair

  • All of the above.
  • You find yourself thinking about using the internet for purposes of making sexual contact.
  • You find yourself chattin online with one or more individuals on a regular, or pre-arranged, basis.
  • You make attempts to contact these individuals by other means.
  • You become aroused by the contact you have online - more than with your partner.
  • You feel guilty about your online activities.

'Virtual' cheating or actual betrayal?

Even though the relationship is termed 'virtual', the sense that a partner is cheating on you is real and what's worse it can feel as if the 'other person' is under your roof - even if they are miles away.

The time spent on the internet is time spent away from the primary relationship, the intimacies that are shared with a virtual person don't get shared with a real partner and this leads to feelings of betrayal, rejection and worthlessness. It's not just partners that are neglected; children and friends also suffer to.

The person going online can feel they're escaping from real life problems but retreating into your online persona only makes what's happening in real life worse. Online relationships carry the danger of detaching you from reality - the virtual partner can become idealised, by comparison the real partner can look inferior.

Unfortunately, online relationships can lead to breakups and while some of these may have happened anyway, some are mistakes - leaving real partners for virtual partners whose online personas bear little relation to what they're really like.

It's not the internet or social media that's to blame for the rise in breakups and relationship problems caused by online affairs. As human beings we have choices - to engage in what technology has to offer, or not. Just because technology is offering you access that is affordable and provides you with anonymity, it will not reduce the trauma of a partner discovering what they are likely to feel is as much a betrayal as a real life affair.

Tips to try if you find yourself becoming involved online or suspect a partner

  • Consider what is going on in your primary relationship that is creating a need for your online relationship.
  • Talk to your partner about your concerns and feelings, the areas of your relationship that are no longer working for you.
  • If you can't talk together then seek the assistance of a counsellor.
  • The internet can be addictive, try to reduce the amount of time you're online during an average day.

The upside to the internet

It isn't all doom and gloom, the internet can provide an invaluable way for couples to stay in touch. Some couples who are separated through work, those in the forces for example, find emails and social media a great a way of maintaining their relationship. It also helps children to keep in touch with an absent parent. The bottom line is personal responsibility.

How we can help

If you're worried about your relationship, there are various ways we can help.