Social media is everywhere. It’s hard to find a single aspect of our lives that is free from its influence. It can deeply impact our careers, friendships, politics, and, of course, our marriages.
It’s not to say that marriage and social media can’t get along. In fact, at least a third of new marriages start online. But it also adds a host of marital complexities and challenges we’re only beginning to understand.
The Filter Effect
For one, social media adds a lot of pressure to a marriage. People have always looked at their relationship by comparing it to those of their friends and family members, but social media skews this perception, as people can portray their marriage online however they wish. The difficulties and tensions that would slip through the cracks in a face-to-face meeting are easily concealed beneath the social media filter.
We understand that social media has this effect, but we can’t always avoid it. When social media portrays everyone else’s marriage as perfect, it’s hard not to see your own in a different light.
Infidelity in the Internet Age
Perhaps even more difficult is how social media complicates the definition of infidelity.
It used to be cut and dry. When a person has sex outside of their primary relationship, that’s cheating. And social media offers plenty of opportunity for would-be cheaters to engage in that behaviour, with former flames and available singles just a click away.
Can a webcam encounter that never leads to face-to-face interaction count as infidelity? Does flirting via Facebook or apps like Tindr? What a fosters a deep, emotional connection that lacks explicit sexual overtones?
Recently, two researchers from the Cardiff Metropolitan University published a study about jealously in relationships arising from social media. In the study, people were asked to look at messages revealing either a sexual or emotional relationship between their partner and someone else. The former messages showed an explicit physical relationship, while the latter revealed emotional infidelity (such as calling someone their soul mate).
The study showed that while men were most distressed by the messages showing a partner’s sexual infidelity, women took issue with the emotional infidelity more, perceiving it as much a form of cheating as much as the physical relationship.
In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Robert Weiss, offers a new definition for cheating in the digital age.
“Sexual infidelity is the breaking of trust that occurs when sexual secrets are kept from an intimate partner,” he writes. “At the end of the day, sexual infidelity is not so much about the physical sex act – either in the real world or online – it’s about the fact that you are keeping it a secret from your partner, the one person in the world with whom you supposedly share everything.”
How Should Married Couples Cope?
Many corporations establish a policy when it comes to social media use. In the digital age, couples would be wise to do the same.
When two people decide to join together in marriage, they should discuss these issues before they even start planning the wedding. Make it clear from the start where the line between friendship and infidelity lies, and set clear boundaries for what each person is comfortable with when it comes to social media. Will you share each other’s passwords? Share messages with each other? How often will you talk about your respective social media activities? What will you include or leave out of those conversations?