Can Facebook harm your Marriage? Although we’ve been hearing since 2009 that Facebook may be playing a role in divorce, a recent study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior1, appears to be the first to scientifically examine divorce rates, marital quality, and the use of social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook.
The researchers examined two kinds of data. For each US state, they collected recent divorce rates and the proportion of persons in each state with a Facebook account. The second was an online survey of almost 1200 individuals specifically examining marital well-being and SNS use.
Across the 50 states, they found that as the proportion of Facebook users increased, there was a slight elevation in the divorce rate. While this finding is interesting, it doesn’t tell us anything about what’s going on for the individuals in that state. That’s where the individual-level data comes to play.
The researchers were able to control several variables in these analyses, such as income, education, race, age, and religious attendance. After removing the contribution of such factors, increased SNS use was shown to play a small role in predicting lower marital quality, less perceived happiness in the current marriage, more perceived troubles in the current marriage, and thoughts in the last year about leaving spouse.
Unfortunately, the design of this study did allow the re searchers to identify which is the cause and which is the effect (the perennial chicken and egg problem). Does SNS involvement cause marital problems, or do people in unhappy marriages spend more time on SNS? Although these data cannot answer that question, common sense would suggest that both occur.
For some, SNS detracts from the marriage and also provide an avenue for various forms of infidelity (such as wondering what your high school girlfriend is up to these days). Others seek support and contact with others to cope with an unhappy marriage.
So how can you prevent Facebook from harming your marriage? Here are 10 common sense suggestions:
1. Don’t hide anything on Facebook from your partner and don’t have anything to hide.
2. Have a shared understanding about how you each will use SNS. Some couples have a shared Facebook site (BradndSusan), others share the password to each other’s account, while others frequently look at Facebook together. There’s no right solution here—I just recommend you reach an agreement about the use of these sites.
3. Do not friend, or promptly unfriend, any person that makes your partner uncomfortable.
4. Analyze how you spend your time—are you spending more time with your virtual friends or your real-life partner?
5. If you discover that you’d rather post another kitten meme or play Candy Crush Saga than be intimate with your partner, it’s time to seek help.
6. Be willing to ask yourself some hard questions if you find yourself tempted to spend time perusing the pages of your ex, old flames, or people you find attractive (either on or offline). What’s going on in your life or your marriage that makes such behaviors appealing?
7. If you are unhappy about some aspect of your marriage, address your concerns with your partner rather than seeking support online.
8. If you both enjoy SNS, use them to flirt and communicate with each other. Message each other and post on each other’s page regularly. Make sure your status updates and photo albums convey that you are happily married.
9. Do not engage in any activity on an SNS (posting pictures, sending messages, etc.) that you would not participate in if your partner were sitting next to you, viewing the same screen.
10. Remember Rule #1.
1 Valenzula, S., Halpern, D., & Katz, J. E. (2014). Social network sites, marriage well-being and divorce: Survey and state-level evidence from the United States. Computers in Human Behavior, 36, 94-101.
About the Author: Dr. Mark B. White is the Marriage and Family Therapy Doctoral Program Director at Northcentral University. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and AAMFT Approved Supervisor and provides therapy at the Vernal Center for Couples & Families