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Researchers from the Open University and Oxford University will work with the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships to develop a programme of knowledge exchange activities about internet infidelity, its impact on couples and families and the counselling and therapy techniques used with couples affected by it.

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In this Kickstarting Impact project, Dr Andreas Vossler and Dr Naomi Moller from the Open University (OU) and Dr Bernie Hogan from the Oxford University will work with the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships (TCCR), a leading centre of excellence for relationship counselling and couple psychotherapy in the UK.  Together they will develop a programme of knowledge exchange activities on the subject of internet infidelity, its impact on couples and families and the counselling and therapy techniques used with couples affected by it.

The rapid development of the internet and social networking services in the last decade has increased the range of possibilities to engage in activities online that can be classified as infidelity. Existing research on the subject suggests that internet infidelity can be as distressing and damaging for relationships as conventional infidelity.

Research has also shown that internet infidelity is becoming more common. This has led to claims that internet infidelity is now one of the main factors contributing to relationship conflict and breakdown.

Many counsellors feel uncomfortable with the topic or lack knowledge about the risks of internet technology, the different forms internet infidelity can take and the ways it may impact couples. So there is a strong need for additional training for practitioners, both on how infidelity occurs online and even on how online technologies themselves work. The project team will host a workshop for couple counsellors to improve their approaches and techniques with couples experiencing difficulties with internet infidelity.

They will also set up a website for anyone impacted by internet infidelity.  The website will provide information on what the existing research suggests about the phenomenon, focusing on key questions for couples, such as what ‘counts’ as internet infidelity and what its actual impact is on relationships. The website will aim to encourage individuals and couples to develop and communicate their own boundaries for online behaviours. The portal will also include a specific section for practitioners providing information and resources to promote working effectively with internet infidelity.

How people perceive and experience their involvement in infidelity online is still not well understood. It is hoped that this project can be a starting point for closing this knowledge gap and informing counselling practices to improve the lives of couples affected by internet infidelity.

Dr Vossler is a Senior Lecturer and Dr Moller is a Lecturer in Psychology in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Open University.  Dr Bernie Hogan is a Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford. This partnership is part of Oxford University’s IAA Regional Knowledge Exchange Partnership with the Open University, Oxford Brookes University and the University of Reading.

This project was funded by Oxford's ESRC Impact Acceleration Account.

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