One of the best things about social media -- how easy it makes connecting with people -- is also one of the worst things, at least when it comes to the institution of marriage. This week a British law firm, Slater and Gordon, released the results of a survey showing that social media was a frequent source of marital discord and was also cited as a contributing factor in a disturbing number of divorce cases.
Remarkably, the survey of 2,000 married British people found that one in seven had considered divorce because of their spouse’s behavior on social media sites like Facebook, Skype, Snapchat, Twitter, or Whatsapp. Meanwhile, one-quarter said they argued at least once a week with their spouse over their use of social media, and 17% said these fights were a daily occurrence. Fifteen percent said they considered social media dangerous to their marriage, with Facebook identified as the biggest threat.
While potential infidelity was obviously a common complaint, spouses also reported being upset about the sheer amount of time their partner spends on social media, posting of inappropriate pictures, contacting ex-partners, and sending secret messages.
Reflecting this discord and distrust, there is also a fair amount of snooping going on in the UK, and I would confidently guess the U.S. as well: 58% of the respondents said they knew their partner’s logins and passwords for social media sites, often without their spouse’s knowledge. Just under half admitted to actually secretly checking their spouse’s Facebook account, with 14% specifically seeking evidence of infidelity, and one in five had an argument about something they found there. On the flip side, one in ten admitted to hiding images and posts from their partners, and 8% said they have secret social media accounts.
Andrew Newbury, head of family law at Slater and Gordon, stated: “Five years ago Facebook was rarely mentioned in the context of a marriage ending, but now it has become common place for clients to cite social media use, or something they discovered on social media, as a reason for divorce… Social media, specifically pictures and posts on Facebook, are now being routinely raised in the course of divorce proceedings.”
Newbury added: “It wasn’t just what their partner was doing on social media but also how long they spent on it that was likely to cause marital problems with Facebook usage topping the list of reasons couples argued over social media.”
Depressingly, this isn’t the first research showing that social media is playing havoc with marriages. Last year I wrote about an academic paper, titled “Social network sites, marriage well-being, and divorce: Survey and state-level evidence from the United States” and published in Computers in Human Behavior, which found that Facebook use is a “positive, significant predictor of divorce rate and spousal troubles,” according to researchers at Boston University and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile’s School of Communications.