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Couples whose relationships are in trouble are using the Internet to avoid dealing with their problems, according to counsellors at Relate.

Computers have a bad impact on up to one in ten relationships, says Paula Hall, one of Relate’s couple’s counsellors, who bases the estimate upon her caseload experience.

In the past couples going through a rocky patch would use the television to avoid talking to each other: now they can spend time apart by going online. The threats from the Net are fairly simple: easily accessible porn and flirty chat-rooms can all contribute to a sense of isolation in a relationship, as well as acting as catalysts for rows.

"It would be rather sensationalist to suggest that the Internet is causing couples to break up," Hall maintains. "But it can distract couples from sorting out problems as well as providing a way to meet new people which can further complicate things."

One relationship that got particularly complicated was that of the Woodhouses. Readers may remember the story of Janet Woodhouse who left her husband and two sons for a man she met in Cyberspace. After telling her family she was going for a session of the 'leccy beach*, Janet nicked off on a one-way flight to Australia, letting her family know where she was one week later. By email.

New people are not the only threat to relationships either, as FriendsReunited proved when a rash of people left marriages for old flames.

But the Net is not all bad, Hall insists: "The Net can be a great place to nurture relationships as well. For shy or socially nervous people, the Internet presents a wonderful opportunity to meet and talk to new people in a safe environment.” ®

*A tanning salon, for those of you from anywhere other than the North of England.

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