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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

Facebook and Marriage

Two recent headlines on Discovery News, an online news aggregator, gave conflicting thoughts regarding the effects of social networking on dating and marriage.

“How social media overload can lead to break-ups” shares studies that show a link between social networking and failed relationships. On the other hand, “Facebook gets credit for lasting marriages” highlights a study that found that couples who meet via the social networking site report higher satisfaction with their marriages.

What is the relationship between social media and romantic relationships, particularly marriage? Does it help or harm?

That depends, say the studies, on why one is using social media and how much time is devoted to it.

One study, highlighted in “Facebook gets credit for lasting marriages,” used a sample of 18,527 adults from the United States who were married between 2005-2012. Seven percent said they met their spouse through social media sites.

The same study noted no significant difference in divorce between those who met online and those who met in real life. At the same time, the study noted that those who met via social media “tended to be more satisfied with their relationships than those who met in other ways.”

Study author Jeffrey Hall, a communications researcher at Kansas University, is unsure of why social media results in happier relationships, but he notes that one’s Facebook profile “tends to be a pretty honest representation of who they are.”

From a different perspective, could that profile honesty lead to the demise of a relationship? The study profiled in “How social media overload can lead to break-ups” noted that those who spend more time on social networking sites report more conflicts in their relationships and are more likely to break up.

“If you’re looking through your newsfeed and you see stuff related to your partner and you find out that an attractive person you don’t know is posting likes or comments on your partner’s photos, you might start wondering, ‘Who is this person?’” said Tara Marshall, a psychologist at Brunel University in London. “That can be a huge catalyst for jealousy for certain individuals.”

Marshall continued, “Before social media, if you wanted to find information about ex-partners or new partners, you had to do more digging with higher risk strategies. You had to trail them or engineer situations to bump into them. It was much more effortful. Now, having Facebook, which is anonymous and free, it’s much easier to track people.”

Something as seemingly innocuous as using Facebook can have disastrous consequences. A 2011 survey found that Facebook was “cited in as many as a third of divorce filings, often mentioning inappropriate messages to other friends or mean posts and comments.” A survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that more than 80 percent of attorneys had seen a rise in social networking evidence in divorce trials during the past five years.

With more than a billion monthly Facbeook users, and 550 million Twitter users, these statistics could have far reaching consequences.

In a report in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking in 2013, researchers said the most active Facebook users experience the most Facebook related conflicts. Similarly, the more active Twitter users reported more conflicts on Twitter and in their relationships.

The concrete reasons remain unclear, but one potential conflict documented in other studies is the pervasive use of social media during situations that were once reserved for meaningful conversation – a topic recently satirized by a Coca-Cola commercial.

In 2011, British researchers found that adults spend an average of 48 minutes on their smartphones during a date. Those under the age of 25 reportedly spend double that time.

Also in 2011, the New York Times hosted its second Modern Love college essay contest. When the winning essays were printed, the Times’ Daniel Jones noted the striking difference between the 2008 and 2011 entries. In 2008, essays tended to focus on seeking physical relationships without the emotional. Just three years later, the focus was technology-enabled relationships that sought the emotional without the physical.

“Unlike the sexual risk-taking of the hookup culture, this is love so safe that what’s most feared is not a sexually transmitted disease but a computer virus, or perhaps meeting the object of your affection in person,” said Jones.

Winning essayist Caitlin Dewey paints a crisp picture of the struggle between Internet dating and real life. She writes of her Skype and instant messaging relationship with Will, a young man she met at a conference, who lives hundreds of miles away. Although months of online interactions fueled an intimate friendship, Dewey’s description of their “real life” encounter reveals a struggle between what they could share between screens versus in-person:

“But after we kissed and ate pizza and went back to his house, we struggled for things to talk about. In real life, Will stared off at nothing while I talked. In real life, he had no questions about the drive or my work or the stuff that waited for me when I went back to school.

“He took me out for dinner and read his e-mail while we waited for our food. He apologized profusely, but still checked his Web site’s traffic stats while we sat in his living room.

“He took me to a party at his friends’ house where they proceeded to argue for hours about Web design while I sat on a futon and stared at the ceiling, drunk and bored and terribly concerned that I looked thinner online. At points, he grabbed my hand and gave me small, apologetic smiles. It seemed like a strategy game: a constant dance of reaching for me and pulling back, of intimacy and distance, of real life and Internet make-believe.”

Dewey’s essay was entitled, “Even in Real Life, There Were Screens Between Us.” The studies profiled on Discovery News underscore this delicate dance between the social media world and “real life” interactions for those who are married or dating, highlighting the impact, for good or ill, the Internet or smartphone screen can have in our face-to-face relationships.

About the author
Emily Macke serves as Theology of the Body Education Coordinator at Ruah Woods in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received her Master’s in Theological Studies at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC, and her undergraduate degree in Theology and Journalism at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Emily shares the good news of the Catholic faith through writing, media appearances and speaking opportunities, which she has done on three continents. She and her husband Brad live in southeast Indiana.