Can Spending Too Much Time on Facebook Lead to Divorce?

Social media sites like Facebook bring people together. Now, according to a study, it can also rip spouses apart.

A 2014 study led by a Boston University professor found that people who spend a lot of time on Facebook and other social media sites are more inclined to think about leaving their spouses than those who don’t use social media.

Another Study: Twitter Is Damaging to Romantic Relationships

“Active Twitter use leads to greater amounts of Twitter-related conflict among romantic partners, which in turn leads to infidelity, breakup, and divorce,” according to a 2014 study done by a professor at the University of Missouri.

More than 550 participants, aged 18 to 67, were asked questions such as:

  • “Have you emotionally cheated on your significant other with someone you have connected or reconnected with on Twitter?”
  • “Have you physically cheated on your significant other with someone you have connected or reconnected with on Twitter?”
  • “Has Twitter led to a breakup/ divorce?”

— Source: The Third Wheel:
The Impact of Twitter Use on Relationship Infidelity and Divorce,
a study led by Russell Clayton

“Using SNS (social networking sites) is negatively correlated with marriage quality and happiness, and positively correlated with experiencing a troubled relationship and thinking about divorce,” states the study by Boston University Professor James E. Katz and two colleagues.

Because of its overwhelming popularity, Facebook may be the leading culprit, according to the study. Across the U.S., it stated, “the diffusion of Facebook between 2008 and 2010 is positively correlated with increasing divorce rates during the same time period.”

The researchers cautioned that this was an “empirical” finding, which “to our best knowledge has not been put to test yet.”

However, the empirical evidence was pretty compelling, they add.

“Despite its professed mission to help people connect to each other, (Facebook) has been accused of damaging the relationships of thousands of couples,” the study states.

Other Studies

The Boston University study is not the first to examine social media use and divorce. The first report of a linkage between Facebook and marriage dissolution was made in 2009 by an executive of Divorce-Online, a service in the United Kingdom.

The executive, Mark Keenan, reported that the word “Facebook” appeared in 989 of the company’s 5,000 most recent divorce filings — almost 20 percent. Keenan ran the numbers again in 2011 and found Facebook was mentioned in about 33 percent of cases.

In 2010, a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that four of five attorneys reported that “an increasing number” of divorce clients cited “evidence” from Facebook that their spouses had transgressed.

And, a 2011 study by the University of Texas found that 32 percent of heavy social media users thought seriously about leaving their spouse, while only 16 percent of non-social media users had entertained such thoughts.

Yet another study led by Russell Clayton, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri, found similar damaging results to romantic relationships. Clayton explained some of the reasons:

  • “…The more a person in a romantic relationship uses Facebook, the more likely they are to monitor their partner’s Facebook activity more stringently, which can lead to feelings of jealousy.”
  • “Facebook-induced jealousy may lead to arguments concerning past partners.”
  • “Facebook users are more likely to connect or reconnect with other Facebook users, including previous partners, which may lead to emotional and physical cheating.”

Clayton also led a study showing the effects of Twitter on couples (see right-hand box for results).

A Facebook spokesman, quoted in MarketWatch, said the supposed correlation between Facebook use and divorce was “ludicrous.”

One theory, posited by the New York-based financial strategist Jeff Landers, is that Facebook makes it easier to start an extramarital relationship than it was before the digital age began.

“You can easily reconnect with an old boyfriend or girlfriend from college online,” Landers told MarketWatch. “It all starts innocently enough, but the next thing you know you are meeting for coffee and the next thing you know you’re having an affair.”

“Although it may seem surprising that a Facebook profile, a relatively small factor compared to other drivers of human behavior, could have a significant statistical relationship with divorce rates and marital satisfaction, it nonetheless seems to be the case,” the Boston University study states.

Treasure Trove of Evidence

One thing that is certain: social media sites can present divorce lawyers with a treasure trove of evidence to use against an opposing spouse. It may not occur to divorcing spouses that what they post on social media can be used against them in court, but the legal system is relying on it more and more.

Sebastián Valenzuela, one of the other authors of the Boston University study, noted the evidence presented something of a chicken and egg question. “We don’t know whether Facebook is causing divorce or divorce is causing the use of Facebook,” he said.


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