Social networks and divorce

Ever flirt online? Isn’t it harmless? More broadly, does using social media — and Facebook in particular — affect your marriage?

An article in the July issue of Computers in Human Behavior, a “journal dedicated to examining the use of computers from a psychological perspective,” attempts to address this question. An abstract of the article, “Social network sites, marriage well-being and divorce: Survey and state-level evidence from the United States,” is available online.

Survey “results show that using social network sites is negatively correlated with marriage quality and happiness, and positively correlated with experiencing a troubled relationship and thinking about divorce,” according to the article. In other words, a lot of married people using Facebook are having marital difficulties.

However, as the authors acknowledge, the study does not tell us that Facebook causes unhappy marriages and divorce.

Social network sites may reduce marriage well-being through addiction, sparking feelings of jealousy between partners, or facilitating extramarital affairs. The authors found “excessive use of social media has been associated with compulsive use,” which may create “psychological, social, school and/or work difficulties in a person’s life.” These phenomena, in turn, may trigger marriage unhappiness and, ultimately, divorce.

According to the article, Facebook in particular creates “an environment with potential situations that may evoke feelings of jealousy between partners, harming the quality of their relationship” because of how easy the website makes it to search for people, i.e. exes or crushes.

On the other hand, it may be that rather than causing “problematic relationships” and divorce between couples, “divorcees and individuals in unhappy marriages use Facebook and social network sites more often because it proves beneficial to them by providing emotional support.” If so, then Facebook would be connecting “people with friends, family, and other strong ties. That means that divorcees or people going through difficult moments in their marriage would choose this social network site to communicate with their close contacts, trying to achieve psychological well-being,” the authors explain. Social network sites can help in leading “users to connect with people that are going through similar problems in order to receive emotional support.”

My takeaway from this study is that, while there is still much to be learned about how social media affects us, we already know a lot. With some introspection — which isn’t always easy — we can understand the motivations for many of our actions; and the likely consequences.

If we are honest with ourselves, answering a few straightforward questions can reveal a lot about ourselves and our relationships:

• Is being on Facebook in any way affecting my marriage?

• Do I do anything on Facebook that I wouldn’t want my partner to know about?

• Am I (or is my partner) spending so much time online that it keeps us from being together?

• Am I jealous or suspicious of my partner’s Facebook activity? Is my partner jealous?

• What do I get from being on Facebook? Attention? Support? Am I trying to get something online, because I don’t or can’t get it from my spouse?

It can be frightening and painful to do so, but we may need to ask: Is my marriage: a) strong; b) in trouble; or, c) over?

If your relationship is strong, congratulations! Just don’t take this for granted.

If your marriage is in trouble, do you want to save it? If so, the sooner you begin, the better. One step you may need to take is to change your online habits. Contact with a past partner may need to stop. Be open to getting outside — and in-person — help, for example from a marital counselor, mediator or support group.

Is the relationship over? If so, are you finding support on Facebook, or just hiding out because you are unwilling to deal with real life head on?

Social networking has benefits. Enjoy Facebook. Use it constructively. But don’t risk your marriage (if you value it), and don’t let it otherwise interfere with your life in the “real world.”

New York City and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer Lee Chabin helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at lee_chabi‌n@lc-‌media‌te.com, (718) 229–6149, or go to lc-me‌diate.com/‌. Follow him on Facebook at www.faceb‌ook.com/‌lchab‌in.

Disclaimer: All material in this column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.