Agency cites internet misuse for marital rifts

SPENDING TOO much time on the internet and mobile phones is an increasing problem in marriage and relationships and is creating…

SPENDING TOO much time on the internet and mobile phones is an increasing problem in marriage and relationships and is creating a barrier to proper communication, according to the Catholic marriage advisory service Accord.

The agency says internet misuse is the fastest-growing problem. Those citing it as a source of conflict increased by 20 per cent in 2010 and by 125 per cent since Accord began to compile statistics on the issue in 2007.

It also reports record numbers of couples seeking its counselling services, an 8 per cent increase in demand compared to the previous year, according to its annual report for 2010. There was a 9 per cent increase in the number of clients listing financial problems as a source of conflict.

Communication difficulties between couples remains the single biggest problem.


“Modern technology seems to require an immediate response,” national Accord director Ruth Barror said. “When people are together and the mobile phone goes off or the text goes off, they feel they have to respond immediately.”

If people “keep communicating with their mobile phone and other technology, then when do they get to really communicate?” Communication is the bedrock of a relationship, Ms Barror said.

“Social networking and general modern technology requires such a degree of attention and response that it is causing a distraction.”

The problems in communication were “of being over-critical, of insulting the partner, of ignoring, of not engaging – lots of ways of not communicating”, Ms Barror added. “If a couple can continue to communicate no matter what goes on, they can actually maintain their relationship and build through it.”

Accord director of marriage education Stephen Cummins said that while the numbers getting married were decreasing, most getting married in the church attended preparation courses

The courses offers a module on communications in relationships.

Most couples are aged between 28 and 30 and “they are using all of the social media”. It was “important that they realise while it is communication at one level it’s not at a deep enough level”, he said

“Communication is one of the most important issues presenting by couples,” he said. Those aged 34-45 are the most common group seeking counselling, with many of these couples married from seven to 10 years. About 30 per cent of attendees are not married.

Asked if Accord was willing to offer counselling services to same-sex couples, Ms Barror said: “At the moment we are open to everybody, but our expertise and our current focus is very much on the traditional married couple . . . We will embrace everybody but we will refer appropriately if it is outside our expertise.”

Accord said its services were offered regardless of ability to pay.

Accord president Bishop of Elphin Christopher Jones said couples should invest as much time in their relationships as they did in their jobs, homes or hobbies. “The greatest joy in life will come from a couple’s relationship and, of course, the greatest pain and suffering comes from broken, betrayed relationships,” he said.

Accord 2010 Report

* Internet and social media usage is the fastest growing factor in marital difficulties.

* The number citing it as a source of conflict has more than doubled since 2007.

* 12 per cent fewer couples considered separation in 2010.

* 78 per cent of couples report communications as a primary cause of discord.

* Marriage counselling hours increased from 31,932 in 2006 to 43,627 last year.

* A new counselling service opened in Lucan, Co Dublin, but a Balbriggan centre closed due to lack of demand.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times