Is Your Relationship Threatened by Social Media?

Understanding the relationship between social media and infidelity.

Posted Dec 16, 2020

  • If my spouse/partner asked me about my chats, comments, and messages to others on social networking sites, there are some messages I would like to hide from them.
  • I sometimes like to chat or message old romantic partners online or on social networking sites.
  • Sometimes, instead of going to my spouse/partner, I share deep emotional or intimate information with others online.
 Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock
Man showing woman smartphone screen.
Source: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

How much do the above statements apply to you? Spending time with another person outside of your relationship is time spent away from a partner, which is one of the elements that affects judgments of infidelity. Furthermore, other behaviors related to excessive social media and smartphone use are also known to have an effect on relationships. For example, partner phubbing (which involves ignoring your partner in order to inspect your phone), secure social media privacy settings (maybe concealing certain aspects of a social media account from a partner), and Facebook-related conflict (Facebook use causing issues in romantic relationships).

Irum Abbasi employed 365 participants between the ages of 18 and 73 in an investigation of the relationship between social media addiction and social media infidelity-related behavior. In terms of relationship status, 35 percent reported being married, 14 percent reported being in a committed relationship, and 51 percent reported casually dating. The research used the Social Media Infidelity-Related Behaviors scale (McDaniel, Drouin, and Cravens, 2017), which contains seven items, examples of which are shown above, and also the Modified Facebook Intrusion Questionnaire (Elphinston and Noller, 2011), which contains eight items and measures the connection between social media involvement and aspects of addiction with items such as:

  • I often think about social media when I am not using it.
  • Arguments have arisen with others because of my social media use.
  • I lose track of how much I am using social media.

Respondents are required to say how much they agree with the items on each scale.

As predicted, Abbasi found social media addiction to be associated with social media infidelity-related behavior. In other words, those respondents with high scores on social media addiction also produced high scores on social media infidelity-related behavior. 

However, the study found that this association was influenced to some extent by age. For younger participants, the association between social media addiction and social media infidelity was high, although as age increased, the relationship between social media addiction and social media-related infidelity became smaller. In addition to this, age was negatively related to social media addiction and social media infidelity. As age increased, then, addiction and infidelity scores decreased, which is in line with previous research. Abbasi speculates that younger people are perhaps more disinhibited and more likely to engage in risky, unfaithful behavior when online, which may be unlike the way they might behave in a face-to-face context.

In terms of gender differences, the study found no difference between men and women for social media addiction, although men scored higher for social media infidelity-related behavior than women did.

Finally, it is very important to keep in mind that the findings from this study merely show a link between addiction and infidelity and do not necessarily imply that increased social media use causes individuals to engage in infidelity. It could equally be the case that those who may be prone to cheating might increase their social media use. However, the finding that age moderates this link between social media use and infidelity may provide beneficial knowledge to relationship therapists who could then target interventions with consideration to the age of their clients. 

References

Abbasi, I. S. (2019) Social media addiction in romantic relationships:  Does user’s age influence vulnerability to social media infidelity?  Personality and Individual Differences, 1 (39), 277-280.

Elphinston, R. A., & Noller, P. (2011) Time to Face It! Facebook intrusion and the implications for romantic jealousy and relationship satisfaction. Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, & Social Networking 14 (11), 631—635.

McDaniel, B. T., Drouin, M. & Cravens, J. (2017). Do you have anything to hide? Infidelity related behaviours on social media sites and marital satisfaction. Computers in Human Bahaviour, 66, 88-95.