When approached with that question, my first instinct was to sneer. Well, maybe social media can cause a relationship to end…if you’re in middle school. And then, in my mind, appeared a whining 13-year-old girl crying over her boyfriend (whom she’d been dating for a week) liking another girl’s photo on Instagram. That would be a clear-cut ending to a juvenile relationship.
But as I thought harder about the implications of social media and divorce, I struggled to come up with a definitive situation that would ultimately result in a divorce. Where there is adultery, a case exists for the marriage coming to a grinding halt. A case also exists for both spouses trying to rebuild, given the plethora of reasons underlying why married people stray. Considering whether social media usage can be the sole impetus for divorce, the answer for me became equally as unclear. Perhaps there is a reason.
A 2014 study in the journal, Computers in Human Behavior, found a positive correlation between social media use and divorce in the United States. At a macro level, increased Facebook usage was associated with growing divorce rates by state during the period between 2008 and 2010. At a micro level, the survey also revealed that social media usage had a negative correlation with the quality of the marriage. But nowhere did the study cite social media as the sole cause.
That’s because people don’t typically get a divorce for one reason. Marriages generally decline over a long time until, finally, it reaches a breaking point and can be declared “over.” I should know. My husband’s infidelity served as a catalyst, but when others ask me what caused my divorce, I respond with “a lack of mutual respect.” There was no single instance which resulted in my ex or me saying, “Let’s get a divorce.” In retrospect, it was a long time coming.
Social media was never prevalent in my marriage. It was virtually nonexistent because my ex didn’t use it. My situation, however, is not at all typical, especially today.
According to research conducted by Russell Clayton at the University of Missouri, those who use Facebook excessively are more likely to experience conflict with their romantic partners. Such conflict may lead to adultery, breakup, and divorce. The study underscores how Facebook makes it easier for spouses to reconnect with old flames or meet new ones and may lead to emotional or physical cheating. The study also discusses how Facebook can give rise to jealousy and, as a result, regular monitoring of a partner.
Time spent on social media can similarly cause relationship discord by implying indifference. In an article for Psychology Today, Marisa T. Cohen, Ph.D., C.P.L.C. says: “Focus less on creating the perfect social media story and enjoy the time you spend with your partner and friends in real time in the real world. If everything is distilled through a website, you aren’t making the most of the time you spend together.
So, can we conclusively answer the question of whether social media causes divorce?
Craving an easy answer to the question of why our marriage ended, a culprit if you will, we may want to conclude that social media is the reason. Even so, correlation doesn’t equal causation. As the research above indicates, social media usage is negatively correlated with marriage quality but not the end itself. Multiple factors can contribute to the demise of a marriage, social media being only one of them.
On a societal level, we likewise cannot conclude social media alone is responsible for national divorce rates. There are plenty of married couples who use social media without experiencing severe marital problems as a consequence.
We don’t know why events are correlated, only that they are, leaving what happens in our own home to remain our truth. If you believe social media usage is undermining your marriage, Clayton offers a logical solution for struggling couples: cutting back.
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