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BellaOnline's Marriage Editor

Married to a Cyber Addict?

Cyber addiction is today’s newest obsession. We live in an electronically-connected society where personal and professional lives fly through cell phones and PDAs on the street to laptops at home and desktops at the office. It’s easy to become mesmerized by technological advances that touch every field from medicine to home maintenance. But the cyber addict differs from a technology fan. While the techno nut is fascinated by gadgets and devices, a cyber addict spends an extreme number of hours in cyberspace either on the Internet or virtual gaming environments.

Many marriages today are affected by cyber addiction as people are attracted to the escapism that virtual new worlds offer.

It’s not just gaming or illicit imagery
Gaming addiction and illicit imagery addiction can be fed in cyberspace, but one doesn’t have to access computers for either. The Internet makes gaming and illicit imagery readily available but there are other attractions for the true cyber addict. And there are several lures.
Virtual world addicts: A virtual world addict lives out an artificially created life online. He or she can connect with other real people who take on alter egos and play out virtual life scenarios together. Sometimes, they play out their exchanges in forums or chat rooms while others use software programs like Sim City that allow one to create his or her own life from scratch. The appeal is the power to lord over entire realms or interact with alluring strangers when in real life, one feels significantly less powerful, less attractive, less social or less successful.

Although a cyber-relationship may seem harmless, there are dangers that go beyond the time that is robbed from real life. And while the characters are virtual, the emotions involved are real. In Japan, one man sued his wife when she “murdered” his “online wife.” Even in less extreme cases, both husbands and wives consider emotional affairs a form of infidelity.

The news addict: The access to vast amounts of information makes the Internet appealing for people who love knowledge. Imagine having access to nearly every city newspaper, medical journal and industry insider rag. Virtual tours for popular venues around the world make armchair travel easier than ever. You can read the latest from experts from all fields and many are accessible via email.

My daughter suffers from rare memory problems and a memory specialist in Poland emailed me with advice. Another time, I settled a dispute with my husband regarding fleas from our cat. My daughter and I kept getting bitten on our ankles and he insisted that they were not flea bites because he wasn’t getting bitten. A university entomologist in the Midwest told me to tape one of the critters to a white piece of paper and mail it to him. He got the sample, identified it and emailed me to tell my husband that it was a flea and that there is anecdotal evidence that suggested this type of flea preferred to bite females during their menstrual periods. Hah! It’s one of the rare times I was able to prove him wrong! Of course, it took a bug expert to back me up, but the cat got a flea bath and all was well. Is there any wonder why I struggle with cyber news addiction?

The social cyber addict: These people love to connect with others via the Internet because there is a false sense of both security and anonymity. Even those with social phobias find the Internet a comfortable, non-threatening way to “converse” with other real people in chat rooms, forum and message boards, instant messaging and email. No scary face-to-face interaction, and escape is only a click away. Even those who can text or phone family and friends can’t resist chasing their emails or check into their MySpace and Facebook accounts more than a dozen times a day.

But is it an addiction?
According to Webster’s dictionary, the definition of an addiction is “the state of being enslaved to a habit that is physically or psychologically habit forming to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.” A true cyber addict feels anxious or irritable when forced to log off the computer. He or she not only uses computer time as an outlet for frustrations and stress relief but going without it produces stresses of its own.

What makes cyber addiction hard to kick
Abstinence is easier to achieve with other addictions, but because we can’t avoid technology devices in our everyday lives, cyber addiction is harder resist. The Internet is a part of our work lives, and according to a BBC News report, nearly 50% of employees admit to Internet surfing for their own personal use. Usually, the addict isn’t aware of how much time is spent in pointless cyber activities.

As with any addiction, your spouse needs to recognize that he has a problem with excessive video or computer activities. Approach it like a true addiction with some counseling help. Forcing, coercing, threatening and any other manipulation attempts to get him to stop will only worsen the problem as well as your marital relationship. (Read my “Tips to Managing Cyber Addiction” article on this site. The link appears below.)

Tips to Manage Cyber Addiction
Cyber addiction is hard to combat because technology is an integral part of our daily lives. Since we can’t live without logging on in cyberspace, use the following tips to manage cyber addiction and move your spouse toward a healthier balance of cyber and real life activities:

*Assess your real life satisfaction level. Most cyber addicts use cyberspace as an escape from real world stresses including depression, anxiety and social/relationship problems.
Cyber addicts also commonly struggle with other types of addictions like alcohol, drugs and sex. If you find areas of your life troubling, seek counseling instead of escaping into cyberspace which will only worsen problems and delay treatment.

*Be aware of time spent in cyber world. Log your hours so you can see how much time is lost to computer games and Internet surfing. A few hours after dinner can lead to an eight-hour nightly ritual. It isn’t unusual for people to spend more time in cyber world than they do at the office. My husband was shocked to realize that he played World of Warcraft for over an average of 40 hours a week. That was like having a second full-time job!

*Set time limits. Learning to moderate the cyber indulgence is a good long-term solution. Program a timer for a pre-determined amount of time that you’ll allow yourself to play or surf. Once the alarm rings, log off immediately and switch activities, preferably to another equally enjoyable activity.

*Use site controls and locks. If particular websites are tempting, install site controls and locks that make it harder to access them. Sure, you can bypass the codes yourself, but sometimes, all it takes a little time delay for your good senses to kick in and resist.

*Have virtual life boundaries. Be sure nothing is secret from your spouse. If you live a virtual life, be sure your spouse agrees to the terms. And be forewarned that an emotional affair carries all the risk and hurts of a physical affair, if not more.

*Carefully note your cyber activities. Maybe you’re not playing Solitaire for ten hours a day. Not all Internet time is a waste. Learning doesn’t have to be formal or result in a diploma. There’s a lot of great and useful information available at the click of a mouse. Just be sure that the information gained enhances your real life. For example, try learning a new language free online, discovering a new recipe for a foreign ingredient or exchanging heirloom vegetable seeds with a fellow gardening enthusiast.

*Engage in other pleasurable pursuits. Cyber addiction is easy to fall into because it is a passive activity like clicking the remote control for television watching. Set up an area of your home with all the supplies you need to pick up another favorite hobby or activity. Put your heads together with your mate to choose a joint activity that you’ll both enjoy.

*Be aware of the results of your time, on or offline. One motivation that kept me from engaging in too much Internet surfing was realizing that when I logged off, I had nothing to show for that time. If I added up a month’s worth of Internet surfing time, I could have completed several projects or made headway on other goals. Leisure time is productive in and of itself when relaxation is the goal, but be clear with your intentions.

Internet critics point to cyber addiction as proof of the evils of the World Wide Web, but that is like saying eating is bad for you because candy can rot your teeth. I love the media, especially the Internet, for the knowledge and connections it provides for the world. Be a savvy Internet user by making conscientious choices and help those in your home to do the same.

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