A little while back I wrote about Facebook and Relationships. Continuing that trend, let’s talk a little bit about Facebook, marriage, and of course, divorce. One of the realities of being a family law attorney is that I interact quite a bit with people whose marriages aren’t in great shape. These relationships often have similar issues, poor communication, lack of respect, a loss of intimacy, etc. It appears that many marriages that are headed for divorce also have something else in common, a larger use of Facebook and other social media.
The Link between Facebook and Divorce
In the study, “Social network sites, marriage well-being and divorce: Survey and state-level evidence from the United States” published in July of last year in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, researchers conclude that “The data presented in this study provide evidence that Facebook use is correlated with reduced marital satisfaction and divorce rates.” Now, this isn’t a case of cause and effect. The study doesn’t conclude that using Facebook leads to unhappy marriages or that unhappy marriages lead one to use Facebook more often.
What the researchers actually found is that as the share of a state’s population with a Facebook account increased, so did the state’s divorce rate. The study showed that a 20% increase in Facebook accounts from 2008-2010 was associated with a 2.2% increase in the state’s divorce rate. Quentin Fottrell of MarketWatch, notes “Previous studies also support the conclusion that there’s a connection between social networking and marital problems.” in an article, “Does Facebook break up marriages?” According to a University of Texas at Austin survey, 32% of social media users whose social media use was categorized as “heavy” had thought about leaving their spouses as compared with only 16% of people who didn’t use social media.
Why Are Social Media Users More Likely to File for Divorce?
Nobody is sure why Facebook use and Divorce rates are correlated, or why people using social media are more likely to think about leaving their spouses, but there are some suggestions. It may be that social media makes it easier to reconnect with old flames. “Extramarital affairs might have taken months or even years to develop in the past, but with Facebook, Snapchat and other social networks your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend is just a click away… When marriages go through rocky patches and people do seek support, temptation has never been closer” says Fottrell.
It might also be seeing other people’s relationships lived out online or being provided with a host of options for happiness. Hara Estroff Marano in an article “The Expectations Trap” says “With general affluence has come a plethora of choices, including constant choices about our personal and family life. Even marriage itself is now a choice…You get used to the idea of always making choices to improve your happiness. The heightened focus on options ‘creates a heightened sensitivity to problems that arise in intimate relationships.’ And negative emotions get priority processing in our brains.” In other words, social media may make it easier to connect with others and therefore open an array of options that didn’t exist before, making people more sensitive to problems in their intimate relationships and therefore more likely to choose one of those other options.
Check back next time for some more discussion of the illusion of unlimited possibility and its effect on relationships.