25 January 2012

Does Facebook threaten your marriage?

In my view: certainly so, but only if there are significant existing marital and relationship problems and risky behaviours, and if Facebook is being used stupidly.


In my view: certainly so, but only if there are significant existing marital and relationship problems and risky behaviours, and if Facebook or other such social media, are being used stupidly.

A British website Divorce-Online, which deals with divorce in the UK, has reported a survey finding that increasingly, divorcing spouses are quoting Facebook in their divorce petitions to the courts. In 2009 they found Facebook mentioned in 20% of the petitions they studied ; in 2011, 33%.

By contrast, Twitter was mentioned in only 20 out of the 5000 divorce petitions they studied. We must assume that Facebook and Tweets play a role, in far more instances of marriage problems, as they won't get quoted in divorce petitions every time they may have been relevant. 

Facebook gets involved in several ways. It's becoming routine for lawyers handling divorces to search Facebook and similar social media for relevant information, which may reveal bad behaviour by the other spouse, as well as ugly comments they may have made about their partner. 

Why Facebook gets quoted in divorces

While Facebook is being combed for signs of infidelity by divorce attorneys, they're also looking for disparaging remarks made by spouses about each other after they've separated and are embroiled in litigation, according to the website. It found the most common reasons for citing Facebook in a divorce petition to be:

  • flirty and otherwise inappropriate messages sent to members of the opposite sex
  • unpleasant comments posted about each other
  • revealing comments about spousal behaviour made by "friends"

The networks of social media have become an easy place to flirt, or to begin, or record an affair. And after a separation, it's often used by either or both former partners to express their complaints about the other. This may be especially tempting as they may share a common bunch of "friends". So it is here that they can most economically and efficiently make the other seem bad, and try to make themselves look good, to the people most likely to know them and to pay attention, and who could potentially take sides.

A similar pattern has been apparent in America, too. In a 2010 survey of members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 81 per cent said they'd seen increasing use of evidence from social media in divorce proceedings over the previous 5 years: indeed 66 per cent said Facebook was now a primary source for evidence in divorce cases. 


I wonder whether there has been a corresponding degree of unemployment among the sort of private detectives such lawyers would previously have used to develop evidence in divorces. It's a curious reversal. Where once an aggrieved spouse might need to hire a detective to follow their husband or wife, and try to take sneaky pictures to demonstrate their infidelity, nowadays the errant spouse may be so foolish as to take their own pictures and make their own admissions, and publish them in a public forum. 

It's highly convenient for divorce lawyers. What such studies and surveys seem to overlook is the extent to which husbands and wives have been using such methods themselves to investigate the suspicious behaviour of their partners, searching social media and cell-phones.

What continues to surprise me is the extent to which people who are flirting or even conducting a very active physical affair, not only use such technologies, but either actively publish the evidence in these ways, or keep it within their cell-phone or computers, in fairly easily retrievable form. 

Keeping trophies

It's a form of trophy-keeping. Just as some serial killers or rapists will keep trophies and grisly souvenirs of their victims, including items of clothing, personal possessions and even the ID documents of their victims;  so it seems that the serially unfaithful find gratification in keeping pictures, messages and other evidence of their affairs, even when these could very easily be deleted. This is different to the much older practice of keeping a few faded love letters from an old flame, where they might be relatively innocent reminders of a past love. This is likekeeping a box of matches in an inflammable situation, while the flame is most definitely still alight. 

This is more than maintaining fond reminders. Perhaps there's an element of enjoying and enhancing the degree of risk-taking, like meeting your mistress at a restaurant your wife also uses, rather than go to one far away. It almost goes beyond the cliché of "the thrill of the chase" to produce the thrill of being chased.

It's important to recognise that Facebook and other technologies do not in themselves cause the breakdown of relationships. When a relationship is going sour, rather than seeking help from a counsellor, often one or both of the couple get more involved in the pseudo-relationships Facebook and other such media offer. These are easier ways in which to find and form either undemanding virtual affairs (which still implies emotional infidelity to their partner). These can be allowed then to develop further into real-life affairs.

It's not the media or gadgets that cause the problems, but the reasons for which we become excessively attached to and invested in them, and the foolish way we choose to use them. 

It's not that they need more SmartPhones, but more smart users.

(Professor M.A. Simpson, aka CyberShrink. January 2012)




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