Un “like” able — Social media’s harmful mark on marriage

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It’s hard to remember when social media wasn’t part of daily life—when we didn’t post, scroll, pin, swipe, like, and friend.

The most recent data from the Pew Research Center—released in January of this year, based on a survey of 5,733 U.S. adults conducted between May and September of last year–found that most U.S. adults report engaging with some form of social media.

83% use YouTube, 68% are on Facebook, and 47% use Instagram. Despite the controversy, TikTok’s use is growing by over 30 %, and between 27-35% use other platforms such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn; one in five use Twitter (now called X).

According to a study by National University, the average user spends about 2.5 hours daily on various social platforms.

Social media has brought some good things into our lives: new interests, new social circles, and the opportunity to reconnect with old friends. It helped us feel less alone during lengthy pandemic lockdowns. Social apps provide a space for people to be creative, funny, and expressive; for some users, social media generates an important income stream. And who doesn’t love a cute dog video once in a while?

On the downside, social media has undoubtedly contributed to discontent and polarization. There are serious concerns about its impact on our kids’ development, socialization, and mental health—parents have plenty to worry about on that front.

However, research also suggests that social media may be having another kind of detrimental effect on our families—negatively impacting married couples and even becoming a significant contributing factor in divorce.

Studies have found evidence of social media’s harmful effect on romantic relationships and marriage partnerships. Consider these findings:

  • A 2014 study published in Computers in Human Behavior showed a link between Facebook use and reduced marriage quality. Comparing state-by-state divorce rates with per capita Facebook enrollment, researchers found a correlation “in every model analyzed,” according to CNBC. According to the study, “a 20 percent annual increase in Facebook enrollment was associated with anywhere from a 2.18 percent to a 4.32 percent increase in divorce rates.” The researchers estimated that people who do not use social media are 11 percent happier in their marriages than regular users of the platforms.
  • A 2014 study in the U.K. found that participants cited Facebook in about 35% of divorce cases.
  • That same year, the Pew Research Center reported that a quarter of married or partnered social media users said technology had negatively impacted their relationships.
  • In 2015, in another U.K. study, which surveyed 2000 married couples, about a quarter reported that they argued at least once per week about a spouse’s social media use, and 17 percent said they fought about it daily. One in seven said they’d considered divorce because of it.
  • A study in Spain revealed that social media users were 4.5 times more likely to have conflict with their romantic partner.
  • In Italy, WhatsApp was cited in nearly half of all divorces—more than emails, notes, clandestine phone calls, sexy texts—according to the Italian Association of Matrimonial Lawyers. “WhatsApp is now the most common way for one partner to discover infidelity in the other,” said Gian Ettore Gassani, the group’s president.
  • In a 2016 Avvo survey, 20% of respondents said social media had hurt their marriage.
  • 14% of partnered adults in the U.S. admit to keeping a social media account secret from their significant other, while almost a third say they have kept tabs on their partner’s social media use and online activities.

How do you know if social media is negatively impacting your marriage? 

It cuts into the quality time you spend with your partner. If social media distracts you from real life, if you’re scrolling when you could be connecting, if you’re checking how many likes your post got instead of having an honest conversation with your spouse, if the phone is on the dinner table or in bed with you. Social media may prevent you from being truly present and disrupting your relationship.

It invites comparison, unrealistic expectations, and jealousy. Looking at someone else’s seemingly perfect life, spouse, house, family, or marriage can increase your discontent, especially if you’re feeling unhappy or unfulfilled in your relationship. It’s important to remember that people tend to post only their most photo-worthy and braggadocious moments—even those that are often staged, styled, filtered, or manipulated.

You and your spouse disagree about social media use. Have you (over)shared in a way that hurts or offends your partner or violates their privacy? Some modern couples are putting social media guidelines in a prenup.

You can’t control it. According to Addiction,” Psychologists estimate that as many as 5 to 10% of Americans meet the criteria for social media addiction today… social media addiction is a behavioral addiction that is characterized as being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas.” It can cause mood swings, anxiety, and various withdrawal symptoms. Further, social media can be a conduit to other addictive behaviors such as gambling.

Lack of transparency. Are you hiding something? Would you feel uncomfortable letting your spouse see your social media activity?

It’s a form of cheating — or leads to cheating. Some studies show that today, a third of divorces begin as online affairs. Connections formed through social media networks can be powerful. They may be blatant (like using a dating app) or subtle (such as striking up a conversation with an old flame or starting a new relationship that has a romantic spark). Be careful: you could be making an emotional investment that leads to cheating — or one that is, in and of itself, a kind of infidelity.

It’s also important to know that if you get divorced, your social media accounts will be a significant source of evidence that could impact your case.

The veteran family attorneys at SFLG can help you navigate all the complex issues in your dissolution.

By Debra Schoenberg


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