The new home wreckers: How byte-size temp­ta­tions ruin a mar­riage

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jen­nifer Harper

Flir­ta­tions and in­dis­cre­tions with other hu­mans may not be the most vex­ing prob­lem fac­ing Amer­i­can cou­ples any­more. Com­put­ers and tele­phones are horn­ing in on that lov­ing re­la­tion­ship.

In a new sur­vey of 1,001 adults, 65 per­cent said they spent more time with their com­put­ers than their spouse or sig­nif­i­cant other, ac­cord­ing to Los An­ge­les-based Kel­ton Re­search, which re­leased the find­ings on Jan. 22.

The com­puter/user “re­la­tion­ship” is in­ten­si­fy­ing, the sur­vey found, not­ing that 84 per­cent say we’ve grown more de­pen­dent on our com­put­ers in the last three years. Har­mony is not a built-in fea­ture ei­ther: 52 per­cent of us take our com­puter’s fail­ures per­son­ally, feel­ing anger, sad­ness or alien­ation if the com­puter did not co­op­er­ate or per­form well. An ad­di­tional 19 per­cent ad­mit­ted they have wanted to strike their com­put­ers.

Iron­i­cally, we seek sym­pa­thy for such “cy­ber stress” from a spouse or fam­ily.

“Amer­i­cans’ re­la­tion­ship with their com­put­ers are af­fect­ing their re­la­tion­ship with fam­ily and friends, as nearly three fourths — 74 per­cent of Amer­i­cans — say they bring their com­puter prob­lems home with them,” the sur­vey found.

“As com­put­ers be­come in­creas­ingly per­va­sive in our lives, our re- la­tion­ships with them can be­gin to seem al­most as im­por­tant as a re­la­tion­ship with a sig­nif­i­cant other. When prob­lems then oc­cur with the com­puter, it of­ten leaves peo­ple feel­ing frus­trated or help­less,” said Robi Lud­wig, a Man­hat­tan cou­ples ther­a­pist.

It’s an equal op­por­tu­nity ac­tiv­ity: 69per­centof­wom­e­nand71per­cent of men, or about 141 mil­lion peo­ple, reg­u­larly use the In­ter­net, ac­cord­ing to the latest sta­tis­tics from the Pew In­ter­net and Amer­i­can Life Project. Men tend to go on­line for soli­tary pur­suits, Pew found in a 2006 sur­vey, while women seek the com­mu­nity of fam­ily and friends.

And while men­tal health ex­perts have ar­gued whether reg­u­lar In­ter­net use fos­ters patho­log­i­cal or ad- dic­tive be­hav­iors for a decade, Stan­ford Univer­sity re­ported last year that 6 per­cent of us re­port our per­sonal re­la­tion­ships suf­fer be­cause of com­puteruse.Anad­di­tion­al14per­cent can­not “stay away” from the key­board.

But com­put­ers are not the only third party among Amer­i­can cou­ples. Dr. Ed­ward Hal­low­ell, a Mas­sachusetts psy­chi­a­trist and au­thor of “Crazy Busy: Over­stretched, Over­booked and About to Snap,” found that mul­ti­task­ing cou­ples are trou­bled by in­tru­sions from com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­vices. Some wives re­port that their hus­bands are bring­ing their Black­Ber­rys to bed dur­ing mo­ments of in­ti­macy, he says.

Dr. Hal­low­ell called it “an ad­dic­tion to mes­sages.”

Univer­sity of Florida psy­chol­o­gist Lisa Merlo faults cell phones as a grow­ing bar­rier to re­la­tion­ships. Those who get sep­a­rated from the phone or per­sonal dig­i­tal as­sis­tant be­come ag­i­tated.

“It’s not so much talk­ing on the phone that’s typ­i­cally the prob­lem,” she said. “It’s the need to be con­nected, to know what’s go­ing on, to be avail­able to other peo­ple.”

A 2006 study from Bri­tain’s Stafford­shire Univer­sity found that 7 per­cent of cell phone users say their phone caused them to ac­tu­ally “lose a re­la­tion­ship,” Miss Merlo said. She ad­vises fre­quent phon­ers to cut back phone time.

“It’s OK to turn it off,” she said. “The­cell­phonemes­sagewil­l­stillbe there.”

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