Roughly 45 percent of the world’s population today uses social media – which is no insignificant figure. To paint a fuller picture, consider this: in 2018, an estimated 2.65 billion people were using social media worldwide, a number projected to increase to almost 3.1 billion in 2021. Soon, it will be a case of those not using social media being the odd ones out. The thing is, despite social media’s ever-growing popularity, there is a powerful paradox at play. Despite being designed precisely to facilitate better social relations, social media is affecting relationships in a negative way.
It is already well-documented that social media has been linked to having a range of negative impacts on one’s emotional wellbeing, including higher levels of loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression, FOMO (fear of missing out), narcissism and decreased social skills. But so too is it damaging relationships – and long-term ones at that. Research shows that increased usage of social media is sometimes leading to marital problems, including infidelity, and divorce. Between arguments over spending excessive amounts of time on social media platforms, to snooping and suspicions over one’s partner’s interaction on social media, to infidelity, social media is not the answer to our social problems – it seems it is the perpetrator of them.
One particular study published in Computers in Human Behavior, compared state-by-state divorce rates to Facebook accounts, and found a link between social media use and decreased marriage quality in every single case. More tellingly, it found that increased Facebook adoption rates correlated with an increase in divorce rates, from 2.18 percent to 4.32 percent. Furthermore, the study found that couples who did not use Facebook were 11 percent happier in their marriages than people who did.
And, according to a survey from Austin’s Center of Population Research at the University of Texas which observed couples aged 18 – 39 years old, high social media usage almost always lead to a troubled relationship, even as far as to thoughts of getting a divorce. And when it comes to the infidelity side of things, wow. A worrying 30% of Tinder users are married, married men are easily able to hire female escorts on EscortsAffair’s website, and there are social sites dedicated to married people looking for affairs – over 130 million people visit Ashley Madison each month, for example. Be it stalking the profiles of former flames, engaging in late-night wine-fuelled flirtations with distant acquaintances, or blatantly pitching to cheat on your partner with another via Facebook Messenger or Instagram chat, social media makes it easier than ever to cheat on your partner.
Sex and family therapist Jaclyn Cravens Pickens, says it happens so easily that you don’t even recognise it is happening until it happens.
“I’ve seen couples who’ve been married for 15 to 20 years getting on Facebook, reconnecting with old flings from high school that they hadn’t seen in forever,” said Cravens. “It starts as an innocent conversation of ‘How’s life? What have you been doing the last 20 years?’… Very quickly, over computer-mediated communication, it develops into ‘Well, marriage is hard and I’m not happy.’ ‘Oh, no, neither am I.’ ”
Losing that sense of ‘us’ time due to social media addiction is having a particularly detrimental impact on relationships. Finding the time to spend one on one time with your partner is this day and age is difficult enough, but add in the contemporary obsession with mindless scrolling and it’s no wonder relationships are falling apart. Just last week I myself experienced this. My husband and I were holidaying in Phuket, enjoying a dreamy oceanside ambiance, cocktail in hand and…. He was 100 percent focused on his Instagram feed. It is an exasperating thing, trying to explain to someone who considers scrolling a harmless daily ritual that it is a dangerous and frustrating habit, one that could hurt the relationship.
So where do we go from here?
Do we point blank refuse to engage with social media platforms, in the knowledge and understanding that they are doing us, as a society, no good? The unfortunate thing is, that isn’t actually true. Some 30 percent of married people say they met their spouse online, mostly through online dating (45.01 percent), social networking (20.87 percent), or chat rooms (9.51 percent). Tinder claims to have connected 8 billion people, and in 2018, 93 out of the 1,000 couples profiled in the Times’ more Wedding Announcements section met on dating apps—Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Coffee Meets Bagel, Happn, and others. Social media is doing helping a proportion of the population find their significant other, it seems. But after the ‘I do’s’, that support seems to dissipate into temptation.
Perhaps the answer is education and public awareness campaigns. We have already seen so many impactful mental health-focused digital campaigns change lives – #metoo, #RUOKM8, and #hereforyou among them. Is now the time to start using social media to educate people on the dangers of social media, and on how to use it in a healthy way? This, combined with an early education approach in schools to teach youngsters how to maintain healthy relationships in life and online, could well be the solution.