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In our exhaustive search for love and happiness, we turn to social media for dating, mating, and friendship on Facebook. This summer we have seen Facebook come under fire for their “manipulating emotions” study as noted in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences abstract. (1) Then we saw the July challenge to quit Facebook for 99 days and gain — over the course of three months — approximately 28 days of time that could be spent more valuably, even if it is just smelling the roses. (2) But even more disconcerting are earlier studies that showed the time spent snooping on Facebook triggered jealousy, cheating, and even divorce (3) and can undermine recovery in broken relationships. (4)

As someone trained in research methodology, I am often suspicious of small scale and online studies. However, in the case of Facebook’s effect on relationships, the results predictably point to common sense.

A study reported in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking of 205 Facebook users aged 18–82 was conducted to determine “whether high levels of Facebook use predicted negative relationship outcomes.” It was found that the more often one party in a relationship uses Facebook, the more they also monitor their partner’s behavior, thus setting the stage for the green-eyed monster.

What tends to happen is that jealousy easily slips into emotional infidelity. So if you interpret your partner’s Facebook friends as flirting, you might begin flirting as well. “It’s harmless,” say most. But it is not. Emotional infidelity in real time can be seriously damaging to a relationship, a slippery slope that leads to intimacy with a relationship intruder.

In terms of break-up stress, a 2012 report called “Facebook surveillance of former romantic partners” from the Interactive Media Institute in San Diego says that with more than 900 million people worldwide actively using the site — at least one-third are checking out what their former romantic partners are up to. This can seriously undermine a heartbroken lover’s ability to heal and move on. If you are still so emotionally attached, it may not hurt to ask for a face-to-face conversation. There is always a chance for reconciliation.

People who think a spouse or lover is cheating might be adept at following their intuition. However, withdrawing behavior might be characteristic of someone in the throes of a serious depression. Those suspicious of a spouse or lover would do well to forgo snooping and instead, take the risk of talking quietly, rationally, and thoughtfully. Explain that you feel as if there is a problem and ask what the two of you might do to work together towards a solution.

In any relationship in a rocky place, there are options. These three thoughts might help:

* Talk quietly, rationally, and thoughtfully with a husband or lover. Explain that you feel as if there is a problem and ask what the two of you might do to work together towards a solution.

* Seek the counsel of a professional with expertise in saving marriages.

* Forgive — so that you can either stay in the marriage with integrity or leave with dignity.

To find out the truth about your partner, instead of relying on social media, consider the value of face-to-face and looking into someone’s eyes. It is a method that has worked for centuries.


1. Adam D. I. Kramer, Jamie E. Guillory, Jeffrey T. Hancock: Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111 no. 24, 8788-8790, Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional manipulation through social networks

>> Related: Cornell ethics board did not pre approve Facebook mood manipulation study, Washington Post.

2. Joan E. Greve, This Campaign Will Help You Quit Facebook for 99 Days, TIME, July 9, 2014

3. Russell B. Clayton, Alexander Nagurney, Jessica R. Smith. Cheating, Breakup, and Divorce: Is Facebook Use to Blame? Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 2013; 130607071844007 DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0424

4.Tara C. Marshall. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. October 2012, 15(10): 521-526. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0125

Copyright 2014 Rita Watson 

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