Published in Uncategorised by Dr Bernie Hogan of The University of Oxford on October 18th 2021
Use of the internet can come at the detriment of in-person interactions. What creates this allure and when does it become a problem?
Do you ever turn to your partner only to see their face buried in a phone or distracted by the screen? Does your partner worry that you might check their messages? Do they withdraw from their phone or laptop as you approach? Or do you feel like they are simply spending too much time on the internet?
The internet can be a problem in relationships when it gets in the way of connections between people, which is a little ironic since it was built to connect people. But sometimes the internet can connect people in ways that don’t work with their current relationship. For example, individuals might spend more time with people online than with the person right in front of them. Or they might consider the internet as separate from their everyday life and try to hide their activities. This could lead to intimacy problems in a relationship.
It’s OK to think that the internet can be a problem in a relationship. Sometimes it’s not simply the person on the other side of the screen, but the screen itself: the lure of the screen can be very tempting. For example, research has shown that when we don’t see people in front of us, we often fill in the gaps in our head. Thus, a simple “hey, what are you up to” could then be read with all sorts of meaning. This act of reading into an online relationship can make them feel very intense.
Research has shown that when we don’t see people in front of us, we often fill in the gaps in our head
Internet activity can be very compulsive, like a bad habit. It’s easy to get a sort of “tunnel vision” when interacting on the internet, which can make people forget their immediate surroundings, and their immediate relationships.
Finally, it’s clear that the internet can be used for all kinds of online interactions, from pornography viewing to embarking on affairs. In these cases, the internet is only part of the issue. To be clear, sometimes pornography isn’t a problem, especially if viewed moderately and between consenting adults. But if you think it may be a problem, see our ‘addicted to porn’ and ‘looking at porn – can it be cheating?’ pages.
It can be challenging to know whether the internet is a cause or a symptom if relationship difficulties
Without speaking to a professional it can be challenging to know whether the internet is a cause or a symptom of relationship difficulties. Sometimes people can be drawn in by the illusion of intimacy online (making the internet the cause), other times people can be lonely and unhappy in a relationship (making the internet a symptom). With the internet now a firm part of everyday life, people need to be able to use it within a healthy relationship. If you think that the internet is a problem in your relationship, consider speaking to a relationship specialist.
To see the full list of research references which have informed the content on this page, please see our research references section.