A large majority of the population uses the Internet on a frequent basis without having a problem. Additionally millions of Internet surfers are able to limit their use of online auction services, stock-trading services, interactive games and even chat rooms to healthy, productive purposes. It is also typical for many Internet users to go through periods of something like an initial interest binge either when they first go online or when they discover a new resource and spend several hours exploring it.
What you should be worried about are signs that your spouse's use is getting out of control — excessive time online that takes him or her away from family, chores, and other responsibilities; irritability or anger when asked about online activity or asked to get offline; financial irregularities, and other dramatic changes in routine or behavior.
Additional signs may accompany a secret pornography habit or other online sexual activity, says Dr. Kimberly Young, a pioneer in Internet addiction research. She encourage spouses to look for changes in sleep patterns, demands for privacy, evidence of lying, personality changes, a loss of interest in sex and a declining investment in your relationship.1
One way to determine if your spouse's activity is drifting off into inappropriate areas is to simply ask them, "What are you doing while you are online?" If they seem defensive or deceptive, you may want to get a more accurate idea by reviewing the history files on your browser. If you have Microsoft's Internet Explorer, just click the "History" button on the toolbar.
The history file usually provides documentation for the locations and times of all Web traffic over the past month or so. A history file that is empty or only has a couple of files despite a lot of recent activity may be an indication that your spouse has found out how to clear the browser history (an option available in the preferences area of the browser). Your spouse may not be aware, however, that pictures from the Web sites they visit are usually stored in a temporary area called a cache file. You can usually find that file on both PCs and Mac computers by using the "Find" feature and doing a search among file folders with the words "cache" or "webcache." This folder will bring up a list of item names with the suffix ".gif" or ".jpg." By clicking on those file names, you can see what pictures have been downloaded. If you see either pornography or gambling related images, then you know that someone in your house has a problem that needs to be addressed.