Is Facebook Bad for Relationships? I Don't Think So

By Dr. Keith Witt
July 9, 2013
Christopher Foley, a media guru friend of mine, asked me what effects I thought social media, and Facebook in particular, have on modern relationships. My instant response was, “Hey, any new form of connectivity is ultimately going to be good for relationships.” To my surprise, Christopher informed me that different groups of people thought social media was bad for relationships! Really? I was honest-to-God surprised, so I checked out the research (online of course) and found out that Christopher was right! Facebook has been criticized by bloggers and social media haters over the last four or five years, mostly in response to one study, by of all people, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). That’s right, divorce lawyers. The 2010 study found that 80% of AAML lawyers reported an increasing number of cases citing evidence from social networking sites in the last five years, with Facebook way ahead of the other social media (66% Facebook, 15% MySpace, 5% twitter). One third of divorce filings actually contained the word “Facebook.” Facebook was a legal goldmine for catching people lying, using drugs and cheating on their spouses. Photos were a particularly “rich” source—just imagine the look of happy excitement on the face of a divorce lawyer who’s found a picture of his client’s spouse smoking a joint or smooching a lover.

This study has been egregiously misrepresented.

Other research from UCSF and University of Missouri-Columbia suggests a very different story:
  • The divorce rate has actually been shrinking in recent years.
  • People who post about their partner on Facebook report being more satisfied and secure in their marriage than those who don’t.
  • When people are happy, they post more.
  • The more people post about their spouse, the happier they reported being, with one exception—that people who posted “excessively” had more Facebook-related conflict.

Any new form of connectivity will be generally good for human beings, because we are social, and isolation sucks.

I love the new social media — for instance, a huge number of people are finding lovers and spouses on-line and a third of people getting married these days meet on-line. Also, the transparency of social media puts a lot of pressure on people to not cheat, lie, or be hypocrites, because you are likely to get caught, photographed and posted. I’ve had lots of clients find people from their past on Facebook, maintain social ties, add an extra layer of secure sharing before they become more intimate with a potential lover, and open up important dialogues with their kids (“I’m sorry Mom! That beer in my hand was the only one I drank all night!”). Yes, problems arise (like that “excessive use” finding), but that’s what Harvard developmental psychologist Robert Kegan calls “the dialectic of progress.” With new capacities for connection and expression come new forms of pathology. We therapists tend to be on the front lines of dealing with the new pathologies (which can sometimes give us a skewed view), but progress in human communication and transparency is always going to be mostly a good thing.

You probably have an opinion.

In today’s world you can friend me and post it on my wall, or leave it in the comments below! Watch the video for more insight into Facebook’s influence on your relationship.

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