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Caution: Facebook Ahead

August 01, 2012

Facebook has been showing up in Divorce Court lately.

A 2011 review1 of 5,000 divorce petitions revealed that 33% of allegations of improper spousal behavior cited postings on Facebook as evidence. This figure is an increase from 20% when a similar review was first conducted in December 2009 by the popular British divorce website, www.divorce-online.co.uk.

The top three ways Facebook postings get spouses into trouble include:

  • Messages to someone of the opposite sex that the writer's spouse discovered and regarded as inappropriate

  • Messages posted during a period of marital separation in which spouses wrote about one another in unkind ways

  • Messages posted by Facebook friends describing a spouse's questionable behavior, inadvertently giving the other spouse more grist for the divorce mill

What's going on here? Perhaps it's the illusion of safety conveyed by Facebook (and other forms on online communication): we're not face-to-face, we're not hearing one another's voice over the telephone. This illusion of safety may, for many people, be conducive to flirting or crossing appropriate relationship boundaries. Folks who might otherwise never stray into the territory of emotional or physical affairs can be seduced by what seems, at first, perfectly harmless. And if the right conditions prevail — a challenging patch in the marriage, a struggle with depression, a personality drawn to risk or temptation — what begins innocently can evolve into something more. When such postings are discovered by a spouse, the marital balance easily goes tilt.

With social media a relatively new communication vehicle in our lives, there will be inevitable casualties along the way as we learn to avoid its pitfalls. Every communication vehicle has presented risks. After all, marriages have floundered for centuries after carelessly left love letters were discovered in a drawer, and during the past hundred years when aggrieved spouses overheard whispered nothings into the telephone. With its public face and universal reach, social media offers perhaps a more complex array of challenges.

Maybe we should all have a conversation with our spouse about the wise ways to use — and not use — Facebook.