More and more, people are complaining that their partners' Internet addiction has doomed their relationships. The skeptic in you may be thinking, maybe it's the other way around: the partner's Internet addiction isn't the cause of the relationship deteriorating, it's the result. What's really happening, you may be saying, is that the partner is unhappy in the marriage and is taking refuge in the Internet.
So what actually came first, the Internet addiction or the doomed marriage?
This issue has so far been mostly a matter of debate. But now, researchers are beginning to shed some light on the issue.
Marital Happiness in the Age of Social NetworkingResearchers from Boston University, MA, and the University of Santiago, Chile, studied the relationship between social networking and marital happiness. The study also looked at trends that linked divorce rates with social network availability. The researchers examined data from 1,160 married people aged 18 to 39 and asked them to rate their relationships on a 10-point scale. Questions included how happy they were in the relationship, whether their parents were divorced and if extramarital sex existed in the relationship.
Two of the study's findings were:
- Non–social network users were 11.4% happier with their marriage than heavy social media users.
- Heavy social media users were 32% more likely to think about leaving their spouse, compared with 16% for nonusers.
The researchers examined the spread of Facebook throughout the U.S. from 2008 to 2010. They found that greater penetration of social media from 2008 to 2010 was positively correlated with increases in divorce rates.
Together, the above results suggest that high usage of social networking could play a role in compensating for an unhappy relationship and may even contribute to the unhappiness. But we're still missing the actual solid evidence that will tell us what comes first.
Resolving the Doomed Marriage/Internet Usage DilemmaIn another study, researchers from VU University in Amsterdam followed 398 married couples for four years. All couples were newlyweds when the study began. The researchers started polling them one month after they were married, on topics such as marital and personal happiness, depression, stress, loneliness, self-esteem and Internet usage.
The research team found that increased use of the Internet over time was related to decreased well-being and increased depression, stress and loneliness.
What This Means for CouplesIt appears there may be some truth to the idea that increased use of the Internet (which these days usually means increased use of social networks) is detrimental to the quality of a relationship. So what's the solution?
We don't expect couples to abandon the Internet altogether in the name of marital harmony. Nor do we advise them to do so. What we do suggest is that couples periodically pause and assess their situation.
Here are some questions to guide your self-assessment:
- Over the past two years, has my daily usage of the Internet, including social networking sites, increased? If yes, what is the average increase per day?
- Has my partner (or someone else dear to me) commented or complained about my spending more time on the Internet?
- And the critical questions: Am I as happy now as I was two years ago? Do I feel more stressed now than I did then? Do I feel lonelier now than I did two years ago?