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Is the time you spend online ruining your marriage?

November 25, 2011, 4:58 PM

Warning, the four minutes you will spend reading this blog post may be hazardous to your marriage.

Or so you might think.

New research out of the Netherlands examines the relationship between marriage quality and Internet usage finding that the more frequently an individual uses the Internet the happier they are in their marriage. This news comes with one caveat, however, that independent of frequency of use people who are compulsive Internet users are less happy with their spouse.

The research uses a detailed longitudinal data set collected from 190 couples, with partners interviewed separately, in each of the first three years of their marriage.  The data collected reports on marriage quality, the willingness of partners to conceal information or deceive each other, their frequency of Internet use and how compulsively they use the Internet.

First the good news: Frequent Internet usage leads to higher levels of marriage quality over time. Frequent Internet users conceal less information from their partners, feel more attached and over time indicate a greater passion for their relationship.

The only downside in terms of frequency of usage is that spouses of frequent users reported higher levels of conflict within their marriage.

Compulsive Internet use, on the other hand, is a very different story. Compulsive Internet users report a decline in intimacy and passion in their marriages over time. They report spending less time maintaining their relationship and a greater willingness to conceal information from their spouse.  Overall the quality of their relationships is lower and, apparently, deteriorating over time.

The authors test to see if the unhappily married were more inclined to be compulsive Internet users, as opposed to compulsive users being more likely to be unhappily married and found no evidence to suggest that the causality runs in that direction.

Here is the most interesting result, though: the compulsive Internet users are only making themselves unhappy. They perceive that their marriages are less satisfying and behave toward their partners in an increasingly negative way over time as a result.

This could be related to the fact that 42% of compulsive internet users admit to engaging in affairs online and that 50% use the Internet to engage in sexual activities. So what makes a person a compulsive Internet user? Here are the questions used in this study (answers are rated on a five-point scale):

  1. How often do you find it difficult to stop using the Internet when you are online?
  2. How often do you continue to use the Internet despite your intention to stop?
  3. How often do you prefer to use the Internet instead of spending time with others?
  4. How often are you short of sleep because of the Internet?
  5. How often do you feel restless, frustrated, or irritated when you can’t use the Internet?

If you are interested in seeing if your behavior (or your spouse’s) is compulsive the full test can be accessed online here.

So if you are on an online dating site and you find yourself being flattered by the potential spouse who seems extremely attentive, for example always responding to your messages within minutes of receiving them, you might be warned that behavior that seems charming today may not be so charming in the future.

Kerkhof, P., Finkenauer, C. and Muusses, L. D. (2011), Relational Consequences of Compulsive Internet Use: A Longitudinal Study Among Newlyweds. Human Communication Research, 37: 147–173. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2010.01397.x


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