ASK THE EXPERT: QI have been married 10 years and we have four children aged 9, 7, 6 and 4. Recently, I discovered that my husband has been using adult chat rooms online and seems to have been communicating in sexually explicit ways with other people. When I challenged him, he was embarrassed and then defensive saying it was just harmless flirting and that he had not gone over any line. I still feel really unhappy about what he has done.
Up until this, I thought things were okay in our marriage, though of course we haven’t had much couple time with the demands of four children but this discovery has come as a bolt out of the blue. It wouldn’t have been as bad if he was just accessing porn, as I know men do this, but the fact that he was talking to other people has really disgusted me. I feel a bit betrayed and worry about whether I can trust him.
When I spoke to him again about it, he did apologise and said he won’t do it again but he then came out with a load of stuff about how unhappy he was in the marriage, that we never spend time together (which is true), but I don’t think it is fair for him to blame me.
My husband is a great father and has always been very hands-on with the children who really love him and I don’t want to end up separated.
AWith people spending more and more time online, accessing pornography and adult websites can be a big problem in modern marriages. Relationship counselling agencies report that a growing number of couples are now seeking help due to infidelity online or to one partner accessing adult websites. How much of a problem it is, depends on the degree and type of access and what it means in the context of the marriage. There is a big difference between a person occasionally viewing pornography with the knowledge and even involvement of their partner to a full-blown betrayal and using adult websites to start affairs with other people. Like many problems, it can start innocently at first, with a person visiting sexually titillating sites perhaps out of boredom or a seeking escapism but then it can escalate to other behaviours, such as directly communicating with other people online and over time can become addictive and harmful.
In the aftermath of discovering your husband’s online world, it is perfectly understandable that you might feel disgusted and betrayed and to worry as to how much you can trust your husband. You might benefit from going to counselling especially if you feel traumatised and need to the help of an impartial listener to process some of the feelings.
To move forward, it is important that you continue to talk to your husband and try to understand the extent of his difficulties and what the underlying issues are for him.
At the heart of the problem of online “infidelity” is the fact that it is usually done in secret and without the partner’s knowledge – even with infrequent access this secrecy can reduce the intimacy between the couple and can be a first step on the road to bigger betrayals.
A second issue for a marriage is that one partner turns to the internet for flirting and sexual excitement rather than to their partner. When this happens frequently, it can lead to a reduction in their sex-life together, a growing sense of disconnection and an erosion of the marital bond.
Improving the marriage
The discovery of your husband's online world is a crisis in your marriage but it can also represent an opportunity. You could see this as a "wake-up call in your marriage to examine problems in the communication between the two of you and to address this. Of course your husband should not blame you and he must take responsibility for how he has hurt you with his online behaviour, but the two of you must take responsibility for improving the marriage. Though it may be painful, the fact that you have started talking about issues is a good sign. To continue with this process you may wish to seek marriage counselling ( relationshipsireland.com, accord.ie). There is a good chance of success for the two of you, if your husband accepts responsibility for what he has done and if the two of you are willing to work hard on improving your marriage.
Take some time out together
You can also take action at home to improve your marriage on a daily basis. For example you can prioritise a daily talking time with your husband when you share how each of you are doing. This should be time you have alone perhaps when the children are in bed and to make sure it is distraction free (with the computer and TV turned off).
In addition, try to have at least one special evening a week when you get a baby-sitter when you can do some new things together. Simple commitments can make a big difference.
The biggest prize of a successful marriage is closeness and intimacy – which allow a couple to accept and support one another on a deep level. Such intimacy is built on communication and friendship and leads to deep affection and a satisfying sex life.
However, creating this intimacy is hard work and much harder than the easy escapism of the internet or watching TV or even over-working or domestic chores. Real intimacy is created in everyday communication, in the nitty-gritty of sharing a life together and in the hard work of resolving conflicts and accepting the other person as different to you.
Dr JOHN SHARRYis a social worker and pyschotherapist and director of Parents Plus charity