Couples in crisis over use of social media sites

The “always-on” nature of Facebook, Twitter and email is wreaking havoc on Irish relationships as couples forget how to engage in one-to -one communication, according to research.

The study by Relationships Ireland showed that over the past 50 years, despite the explosion in communication tools, 85% of cases presenting to the organisation for relationship counselling complained of communication problems.

Three issues remained consistent problems for people in relationships since 1962. Infidelity was an issue in 19% of cases, while sexual problems were brought up by 24-30% of couples. Problems around alcohol and drugs were highlighted by 10-15% of couples.

It also found the financial climate was having an impact, with financial matters blamed by 38% of couples for their relationship problems. In the 1970s, just 23% of relationship problems were attributed to money difficulties.

The Relationships Ireland research also demonstrated how, as people settle down later, often having lived with another partner previously, former relationships can pose problems. One third of couples had developed relationship problems because of one of the partner’s former relationships.

Step-families led to 12% of relationship difficulties.

“Communication problems have skyrocketed over the last 50 years, initially appearing in 38% of cases, to a consistent 85% of cases today. An aspect of this rise can be attributed to the impact of the constant communication age in which we now operate, that distracts people from one-to-one communication, which is so important for healthy relationships,” said its chief executive, Brendan Madden.

Arguments around parenting and gender roles were blamed by 30% of young couples for their rocky relationship.

“The radical change in traditional gender roles that younger couples in particular are experiencing is also now coming to the fore.

“This reflects a greater expectation of male involvement in family life, as females participate more and more in the workforce.”

Relationships Ireland is holding a conference in Dublin today to mark its 50th anniversary. Frances Fitzgerald, the minister for children, will attend.

The conference includes a keynote address by a regular contributor to the Oprah show, the world-renowned specialist in marital stability Dr John Gottman.

It will also feature influential management and organisational thinker Charles Handy, as well as renowned Irish therapists Marie Murray and Dr John Sharry.

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