Social media sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, along with communication tools such as e-mail and texting, are often cited for their special utility in fostering contacts and exchanges between people, helping to create lasting and sometimes intimate bonds.
Now ample evidence is emerging to show that they can also do precisely the opposite; connecting is so easy and generally private that communication sometimes leads dramatically and quickly toward relationships outside a marriage that undermine it and result in divorce.
Marriage therapists and researchers espouse a common theme when they talk about online communication tools and texting in the context of their work: A spouse or ex-spouse who discovered that the other spouse was having an affair will commonly relate that he or she began to feel as though the tool – whether e-mail, Facebook or something else – became of rapid and central importance to the other partner, even to the exclusion of routine communications within the marriage. And the partner engaged in the affair will often describe how something that began innocently rapidly escalated beyond what was ever envisioned initially.
Bob Rosenwein, a researcher at Lehigh University, finds none of this surprising. He notes that people who have affairs after communicating online typically commence them much more rapidly than otherwise, sometimes within a week. “There’s less inhibition,” Rosenwein says.
Oklahoma-based marriage therapist Tara Fritsch says that the contacts sometimes spur people to cross a line they would otherwise never have approached. Social media increases opportunity, and increased opportunity simply results in more extra-marital liaisons.
Fritsch encourages transparent behavior in a marriage, including a ready sharing of information regarding online contacts and texting/e-mail exchanges. “It’s not suspicion, it’s communication,” she says.