“Mom! Dad! Zack hit me with a soda can!”

(for the record, it was an empty aluminum soda can).

It was spring break, and nearing the end of one of our family vacations as a child, the walls were beginning to close in on my little brother and I.

Though we were close relationally, and continue to still be, as any of you with a sibling can potentially attest, tensions would sometimes rise in long-term, close proximity with one another. You also may also be able to attest to the fact that when thrown from any distance greater than a few feet or so, an empty, half-crumpled soda can is extremely difficult to navigate. Thus, it was an extreme shock to both my brother and I that this particular empty soda can hit its target from fifteen feet away.

Mom and Dad came running into the room shortly after. I was caught red handed. Or rather, my brother’s bottom lip lightly covered in blood displayed half of the evidence of my crime, while another empty can in my left hand held the other convicting indication of my guilt. The evidence against me was sound, complete, and of little question.

The evidence that many married men and married women are using Facebook as a means to communicate emotionally and/or sexually outside of their marriage is overwhelming. In previous articles, seen here, here, and here, I’ve discussed massive amounts of research pertaining to Facebook infidelity and related topics, conducted by other researchers as well as myself. To bring you up to date, below are some key bullet points of what’s happening on the Facebook infidelity front:

  • Heightened amounts of Facebook use have been shown to lead to general marriage instability and dissatisfaction.
     
  • Facebook can encourage relationship destructive behaviors such as flirting, sharing intimate details, establishing emotional intimacy, and engaging in sexual affairs.
     
  • Poor use of Facebook can lead to negative societal consequences such as social isolation, relationship distrust, lack of social cohesion, Facebook addiction, infidelity, and divorce.
     
  • When an extramarital affair instigated through Facebook is revealed, often times negative emotional, relational, and mental implications are incurred in marriages, generally leading to separation, divorce, or both.
     
  • Instigating spouses of Facebook extramarital affairs come from both satisfied as well as dissatisfied marriages.
     
  • Instigating spouses of Facebook extramarital affairs are often not cognizant of the total negative marital implications of their actions while participating in them.
     
  • Regardless if a face-to-face sexual affair transpires following emotional or sexual Facebook messaging, emotional, relational, and mental detachment often unintentionally occurs on the side of the instigating spouse.
     
  • Alarming divorce court statistics indicate a large portion of Americans filing for divorce today cite Facebook communication with the opposite sex as supporting evidence for their spouse’s marital infidelity.

With this sound, complete, and with evidence of little question, it is an unfortunate reality that infidelity and Facebook can potentially join hands if a married man or married woman so chooses. It appears today that many in the married community, whether simply initially looking for a digital shoulder to confide in briefly, creating a one-time sexual fantasy through text with a neighbor down the street, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, simply having an innocent private message conversation with their son’s basketball coach, all can potentially and unknowingly fall prey to the ugly fangs of adultery if Internet marital guidelines are not established.

We can talk extramarital research until the cows come home (this article has cited eight research articles, listed below), discussing endless cases of marriages destroyed by emotional and sexual discussions through Facebook with the opposite sex. But, as we all know, what sometimes can really drive home the nail with solid, complete, and evidence of little question, are the insights from outsiders looking in. That is, those men and women who may or may not be married and, if married, may or may not have been affected by Facebook and infidelity. That is, people like you and me.

Out of this world, confirming evidence, is beginning to make its way in, after nearly a decade or so of Facebook and infidelity research, suggesting many average, ordinary, Facebook using adults observe Facebook infidelity behaviors such as emotional confiding and sexual conversations as actual infidelity. For example, one well populated study supports this.

This mixed-methods examination using content analysis and logistic regression explored how people interpret Facebook infidelity behaviors. They found a resounding 51% of participants interpreted Facebook infidelity behaviors as infidelity and 46.1% interpreted such behaviors as varying grades of infidelity with lower drasticity. Only the remaining 2.9% of respondents (out of 628) indicated such behavior was not infidelity.

Extramarital Facebook communication research clearly indicates direct correlation with potential marital conflict, separation, and even divorce. Though you may be married, stewarding well your digital conversations with the opposite sex, there are many who are unfortunately not. Consistency in research and growing divorce cases centered around Facebook are key reasons for why our marriages need spoken guidelines (not rules, regulations, or oppression), but rather protection against human nature’s inclination for giving into temptation.

Establishing Facebook Safeguards

It's crucial to the success of your marriage in the age of social media to have a casual sit down with your spouse to establish firm guidelines that can be agreed upon for interacting with the opposite sex through Facebook. This includes through private text and pictures exchanged through a computer or smartphone.

A safeguard discussion should be ongoing and updated accordingly before serious interactions with the opposite sex have an opportunity to transpire. Often human behavior is unpredictable, so, when and if someone of the opposite sex attempts to inappropriately infiltrate your marital relationship, marriage safeguards may need to be revisited and revised to strengthen and better safeguard.

If married, communication with the opposite sex through Facebook should be limited. However, there are those women and men fully capable of stewarding well their communication through Facebook, but it is crucial to remain guarded, as marital infidelity generally originates from the most trivial and mundane of dialogues, often then leading to emotional and sexual communication.

As countless research studies of marriages permanently damaged by extramarital communication through Facebook have shown, as well as a variety of extensively large focus groups of single and married women and men not necessarily adversely affected by Facebook communication have confirmed, communicating with the opposite sex emotionally and/or sexually on Facebook is perceived as marital infidelity. It is imperative that you avoid this type of communication at all costs, as more often than not, this type of communication leads to face-to-face sexual affairs.

The following recommended guidelines have been constructed based on researching countless marriages devastated by extramarital communication through Facebook:

The 10 most important Facebook Communication Guidelines for you and your spouse:

  • 1.) Refrain from accepting "friend" requests on Facebook from the opposite sex that you know are emotionally and/or sexually interested in either you or your spouse.
     
  • 2.) Refrain from "friending" former significant others of the opposite sex on Facebook that you or your spouse was/is emotionally/sexually interested in.
     
  • 3.) Communication with the opposite sex on Facebook should be brief, and always include one another's spouse in the communication itself.
     
  • 4.) Communication with the opposite sex on Facebook should never include emotional and/or sexual discussion content or pictures.
     
  • 5.) Remove "friends" from Facebook that you do not communicate with regularly in face-to-face settings.
     
  • 6.) Collaborate regularly with a trusted person of the opposite sex for Facebook accountability.
     
  • 7.) Retain a continuous one-on-one dialogue between you and your spouse concerning appropriate Facebook communication with the opposite sex.
     
  • 8.) If you or your spouse engages in emotional and/or sexual communication with the opposite sex, reveal that communication immediately to the other spouse and formulate firmer guidelines for Facebook communication.
     
  • 9.) Consider combining Facebook account (s) into one collective shared account (s), permitting complete transparency between partners online.
     
  • 10.) Apply all above recommendations to all social media platforms, e-mail, and cell-phone text messaging.

The damaging marital affects caused by Facebook infidelity are desperately worth discussing with your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, who are teetering on the line of Internet marital infidelity.

It’s time to hand the baton over from researchers to the actual stakeholders of Facebook in order to instigate positive changes for the health of the marriage union.

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For more articles written by Zack Carter, Ph.D., regarding how to steward well your communication in an effort to improve your self and your relationships, please check out his Psychology Today blog column by clicking the link below:

Clear Communication: Avoiding Blindspots in Your Words and Actions:

Clear Communication deals with the day-to-day blind-spots in communication. Blind spots in communication are defined as those thoughts, words, or actions you may or may not be cognizant of as you live day-to-day, but often times can negatively affect you and others in the long run. Want to know how to avoid communication blind spots in your personal and relational development? By raising your awareness of these blind spots, in both every day and in social and digital media settings, you can potentially elude relationship heartache and devastation. Achieving relationship success in this 21st-century environment requires healthy, consistent communication stewardship. This blog will help you learn about how to apply social psychology in your personal and relational settings to avoid these blind-sided communication moments. My goal is to educate my readers on how strategy and intentional communication behaviors are necessary to the development and management of your self, and your relationships. 

References

Abbasi, I. S., Alghamdi, N. G. (2017). When flirting turns into infidelity: The facebook dilemma. The American Journal ofFamily Therapy, 45, 1, 1-14.

Carter, Z. A. (2016). Married and previously married men and women's perceptions of communication on facebook withthe opposite sex: How communicating through facebook can be damaging to marriages. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 57, 1, 36-55.

Clayton, R. B., Nagurney, A., Smith, J. R. (2013). Cheating, breakup, and divorce: Is facebook use to blame. Cyberpsychology, behavior, and social networking, 16, 10, 717-720.

About the Author

Zack Carter Ph.D.

Zack Carter, Ph.D., is a professor of communication at Taylor University, where he teaches classes in interpersonal, intrapersonal, and family communication.

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