A new study by researchers from Boston University's College of Communication and Pontifical Catholic University in Chile found that "using social networking sites negatively correlated with marriage quality and happiness and positively correlated with experiencing a troubled relationship and thinking about divorce."

How does a relationship progress from the virtual to a real in-person live relationship that leads a person to take the real action of divorcing their spouse? Dr. Jamie Turndorf declared in an interview on the HLN Channel that "just because you haven't actually touched someone doesn't mean it isn't real…virtual flings and flirtations can easily become the prelude to an actual [in person] relationship."  

Kiri Blakeley wrote recently about  these so called "emotional affairs." They encompass both someone you know and see in person at work or play as well as virtual friends that exist in the internet such as a Facebook  friend or an e-mail, instant message acquaintance or a sexting pal. Ms. Blakeley observed that the key factor in all these various instances is that although there is no in-person sexual relationship, they are conducted behind their partner's back because at some level the virtual cheater knows they are betraying their partner.  

Dr. Turndorf said in the HLN interview that "cheating, infidelity and even virtual infidelity are generally symptoms of an ailing relationship." The symptoms can be explained away or ignored for years as a partner drifts into a single emotional affair or juggle a series of emotional affairs while keeping the existing relationship running. The spouse may suspect something is amiss but decide that things are good at a superficial level so why rock the boat? Some people would rather not check their spouse's smart phone or hire a private detective or the Cheaters Detective Agency and risk discovering that their marriage was a sham from the start.

The internet is a ideal setting for those who want to practice courtship based on physical attraction (a picture), charming e-mails and instant messages, and approval seeking by submerging yourself into the Facebook profile of the person you are attracted to, adapting to their tastes and interests and de-emphasizing those that clash. You have no idea what the person is really like. You don't even know what their voice or laugh sounds like or if they have bad breath or annoying habits. But with the immediacy of social media it is easy to see all the exotic places they have been to and how cute they looked in high school and  become infatuated with the idea of them. They may have a boring job, obnoxious kids and an unstable or violent husband or wife-,, but you have already talked yourself into getting involved in their drama. They may be a moody loner or a psychotic stalker but they sure sound like Prince Charming or Cinderella on their profile. Sadly, using social media to "trade up" on a new relationship is just a tool to achieve another unhealthy relationship.

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