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Infidelity on Facebook – Beyond the Blame Game

By Stacey Ross

Need I confess? Place: Facebook. Activity: Looking up my prom date – and also checking out my last ex-boyfriend, just out of curiosity!

“Tsk, tsk,” you might be saying, but I’ll bet most of you have done the same, married or not. We appropriately interacted with each other, sharing our pride and joy at having built awesome families, and that was the end of it. It is what we do when or if the fish tugs at the line that is the question, along with why we even need to go there anyway!

I looked up my ex on Facebook. Is that so wrong?

In many ways, looking back helps us solidify who we have become today, and can be harmless, especially if our spouses are privy to what we are up to and we have a solid, secure marriage to begin with. Many apparently don’t, however, and the lure to interface online can be a disaster in the making.  Information is so accessible that resisting temptation to dive into the online jungle is often futile!

We regularly hear that one in two marriages end in divorce, so it wasn’t anything eye-opening in 2011 when the UK website Divorce-Online went through 5,000 petitions for divorce and found that Facebook was blamed in as many as one-third of the cases. That’s up from 20 percent in 2009, yet the issues stemming from the break-ups still centered around the same practices of users posting nasty comments about a spouse or engaging in inappropriate online conversations with a third party.

Is Facebook to blame?

Observers often sensationalize the seductive elements of whatever platforms are used, seemingly holding them accountable for the grave indiscretions! Huh? An obscene amount of articles were spurred by the 2011 findings, often with headlines like Facebook Responsible for Divorces or Social Media to Blame for Marital Breakdowns. I challenge you to look through posts about this topic and you will see clearly, that for whatever reason, the choice of wording helps obfuscate the undermining issue of betrayal.

Somehow we have given the Internet, social media, Facebook, whatever, a life of its own. Perhaps that’s because the life that is lacking might be ours. One gentleman I interviewed for a study I did a couple years back shared stories about his cheating ex-wife, claiming that he could easily write a book called How I Lost My Wife to Facebook.

Tom claimed his wife’s fascination with being a mother wore off quickly:

“She lacked passion in her marriage. She started reestablishing relationships with people from her past who were moms. We were friends on Facebook, but I started to see a change. Some days she was about the kids and other days she started taking pictures of herself in mini-skirts. I started seeing the gradual transition to someone seeking attention from people that she grew up with.”

“Soon, she got rid of the pictures of the kids and it was all about her! It was ‘Look at me and my social activities. Aren’t I a fun person? I am not a boring mother!' I was gone – not even mentioned. Eventually, all her posts were strictly about her – what she was doing, how her hair looked – and I started to realize, ‘Wow, you look like you are a single!’ And sure enough, one day I looked at her status and it was changed to single, about a year and a half after having kids!”

“I eventually found out that she was having multiple affairs and had really gone off the deep end. I was heartbroken that we had to split up, especially after having had the kids.”

After hearing his elaborate and heart-wrenching story (his word choices resonating in my brain) I thought to myself, “Honey, you lost her well before Facebook!”

My research led me to ask Dr. Michael R. Mantell, clinical psychologist and television and radio commentator, what leads a spouse to stray and how can we prevent such devastation in the first place.

Why do spouses look online for companionship?

“Facebook and other social media platforms offer virtual pats on the back and flirtatious messages of approval. They can become a place for rekindling old flames and indulging in fantasy, seducing the weak-hearted to abandon steps towards true reparation of real-life relationship challenges.”

Why Facebook?  We see the staggering numbers that point to that online playground.

“Let’s get real. Blaming Facebook for the ruination of your marriage is like blaming a glass for getting drunk! This is really about making positive and smart choices during trying times.”

What leads people to cheat online?

“Unlike many well-anchored couples, who have a number of ways to demonstrate emotional ties to each other, some couples have an apparent disconnect. Instead of identifying ways to be close physically, sexually and emotionally, they manifest ways to be distant in each of these areas.

If you are hooked on believing that you deserve better, that you don’t have to put up with your spouse/partner’s nonsense, that the grass is greener elsewhere, then you’ll likely turn away from the relationship, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or AshleyMadison.com.

Of course, you will be taking your unfulfilled self to the new relationship, looking for that fantasy person to make your life all better, to correct what you didn’t get in childhood, and to solve problems that only you can deal with. When you realize your replacement still hasn’t filled that void, will it be back to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or AshleyMadison.com?”

What do you say to couples who might find themselves going astray online or elsewhere?

“Here are five basic qualities necessary for a successful marriage:

  • Have a good eye to see the good in your spouse and judge him/her favorably.
  • Be a good friend and thereby totally accept each other, be completely helpful to each other, and be encouraging and supportive.
  • Be a good neighbor, so you can be available when you need to be and give privacy when that is requested as well.
  • Attempt to see the outcome, so you will avoid saying or doing anything that causes your spouse any suffering.
  • It is important to have a good heart in order to achieve truly selfless love. There isn’t any other kind of love that builds a healthy, loving and positive relationship.”

Dr. Mantell tends to leave his readers or listeners with something to chew on, like a quote or story, so who would I be to get in the way?

“A wonderful story is told about the gentle old man who accompanies his injured wife to the doctor comes to mind. When the physician enters the exam room and asks what brings his wife in, the husband answers, “Doctor my wife’s leg hurts us.”

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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