A series of recently published studies suggest that the compulsive use of social networking sites like Facebook can jeopardize romantic relationships. The underlying reason could be the availability of online romantic alternatives who are disguised as “friends” with whom an emotional and/or sexual affair can easily be achieved.
I study romantic relationship commitment, romantic disengagement, social networking site addiction, infidelity, and the perception of potential alternative partners.
In a study published in the journal Social Science Computer Review, I divided a sample of 578 partners into two groups: one group included partners who reported to be in a committed relationship (330) and the other group included partners who were in a casual dating relationship (248).
I found that despite reporting no significant difference in the relationship satisfaction, social networking site infidelity-related behaviors, and the total number of social networking accounts that partners had subscribed to, the dating group reported significantly more potential sexual alternatives from their friends’ list than the committed group.
But when it came to developing a committed relationship — rather than just a sexual one — the number of potential alternatives from the friends’ list was not significantly different between the two groups.
This study shows that online friends can be a potential threat to the primary romantic relationship even if users are in a committed relationship.
In another study published in Social Science Computer Review, I examined romantic partners’ age, social networking site addiction, romantic relationship commitment, and the total number of social networking accounts that the partners has subscribed to in a sample of 252 partners.
The results indicated that age is negatively related to social networking site addiction. In other words, younger participants tended to have higher social networking site addiction scores and reported having a greater number of social networking accounts.
Social networking site addiction was also negatively linked to romantic relationship commitment, meaning that compulsive users were less likely to say they wanted their current relationship to last for a long time.
In another study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, I examined the relationship between social networking site addiction and social networking site infidelity-related behaviors in a sample of 365 partners.
The infidelity-related behaviors included chatting with old romantic partners online, using social networking sites to share intimate information with others, and hiding online conversations from one’s spouse.
I found that social networking addiction predicted social networking site infidelity-related behaviors and that age moderated this relationship. The study also found that age is negatively related with these infidelity-related behaviors.
In yet another study published in the American Journal of Family Therapy, I examined the link between romantic disengagement (emotional indifference) and Facebook addiction amongst 417 adult Facebook users who were in a committed romantic relationship. I found that there is a significant positive relationship between romantic disengagement and Facebook addiction, and relationship commitment did not protect against Facebook addiction.
Findings from the studies mentioned above suggest that romantic relationships are under threat in the era of social media. Addiction to social networking sites is negatively linked with relationship commitment and positively linked with infidelity behaviors (sexting, hot chatting, flirting, sharing intimate thoughts).
Social networking friends are often considered alternative partners with whom users could potentially have a committed or sexual relationship with; albeit being committed to a significant other. Furthermore, romantic disengagement and Facebook addiction are positively related and relationship commitment does not appear to protect against Facebook addiction.
These findings are very intriguing and call for caution when adding friends and interacting with them online.