Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Social media the ‘fastest-growing threat to marriage’

Accord, the Catholic marriage advisory agency, says an increasing number of people are more concerned with posting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or chatting to friends on online forums than spending time talking or socialising with their husband, wife, or partner. 

This behaviour is distancing one from the other and causing mistrust and resentment.

There has been much talk in recent months about parents needing to teach their children how to behave online. However relationship counsellors at Accord think adults also have a lot to learn.

“We all see them: The couples in the restaurants eating dinner and both of them are just sitting tapping on their phones, not talking to one another,” said Accord director of marriage education, Stephen Cummins. “People need to learn to leave one phone on silent for the babysitter and one in the car. Marriages are built around communication and that has to be face-to-face.

“Also, people need to realise that if your partner is constantly telling you you’re on the phone too much, well then you have a problem that you need to sort out with him or her.”

Accord deals with all ages, from couples in their 20s to their 60s. In recent years, they have noticed young couples seeking help after three and four years of marriage, a phenomenon they view as wholly positive.

“None of us are in a perfect relationship — there is no such thing — yet we all pursue this supposed perfection which doesn’t exist,” said Mr Cummins.

Overall, latest figures show numbers coming for counselling increased by 10% between 2010 and 2011.

“I think people now realise that there is no shame in seeking support. Getting help early on is positive as if you don’t seek help early on, you are just creating layers and layers of resentment over the years. The longer you leave it, the longer the journey back to a place where you were happy is,” he said.

“People tell us that just making a call to a counselling centre can make them feel better about the future.”

Finances are still the number one problem in Irish marriages. Marriages are affected by the stress of the problems, but often this is exacerbated when one person is not honest about the extent of financial troubles or when one is blaming the other for the difficulties.

“Often one person isn’t telling the other what is going on, then the other person picks up the post one morning to realise that three instalments of a loan haven’t been paid,” said Mr Cummins. “Financial problems need to be a shared problem but there is an openness and honesty to communication that needs to be practised by couples.”

AIM Family Services in Dublin have recorded a 4% increase in relationship counselling numbers and a sharp increase in the numbers seeking mediation over a separation. Often couples cannot afford to sell the family home. The service started evening sessions last year to cope with growing mediation demands.

Financial difficulties are also the main problem presented by AIM clients, but parenting issues are also a significant problem. Its legal helpline has also recorded a sharp increase in numbers seeking advice. AIM now has a six-week waiting list for counselling but says emergencies are seen through a cancellation list.

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