Is Facebook Causing Us To Cheat?

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Is Facebook Causing Us To Cheat?
Social networking puts infidelity at our fingertips. Here's how to guard against the Facebook lure.

Since starting a psychotherapy practice 15 years ago, I've witnessed three basic waves of technology-based infidelity.

Back in the '90s, my clients generally discovered infidelity when opening their partner's cell phone bill. The story was pretty much the same for all of these clients: they would see countless calls to the same number, dial it up and find themselves speaking with the object of their partner's indiscretions. Then came email, the second wave of technology-assisted infidelity. These stories began to emerge in the late '90s. Suspicious partners would log in to their partner's email account and find plentiful evidence of extra-relational activities, if not outright proof of cheating. Watch: Do you snoop on his email?

The third wave began to break in late 2007, when Facebook expanded beyond its origins on college campuses. Facebook infidelity is insidious, and it differs from other technology-facilitated cheating because it begins in apparent innocence. Indeed, Facebook serves as a platform for communication that can lead, almost accidentally, to infidelity. For the most part, Facebook relationship rifts are not about clear-cut physical affairs. Instead, they are about lingering on fidelity's edge. Facebook infidelity begins when the technology, and the relationship that it enables, take too much of someone's emotional energy. Facebook Causes Romantic Jealousy

Recently, one of my clients, a 31-year-old mother of two, complained, "My husband is on Facebook all day! He has more than 500 friends! Who are these people anyway? At this point it's official, I'm a full-fledged Facebook Widow. Help!" 

I have heard this term now—"Facebook Widow" (or, less frequently, "Facebook Widower")—more times than I can count. In fact, it is fast becoming one of the most common issues to surface among my therapy clients. 

In most relationships, it seems that one partner Facebooks and the other doesn't. Or, if both partners are on Facebook, one has hundreds of friends and spends a good deal of time Facebooking, while the other never gets around to changing their bald, alien-head profile image. One gets hooked; the other doesn't. Watch: Facebook Manners And You

Facebook relationship troubles start out innocently. The Facebooker may join for professional reasons, or because they have received numerous invitations from friends. Before long, however, couples are fighting about who has more ex-lovers as "friends," who friended whom ("I forget" being the most common answer to this all-important question), and why people mention certain tidbits on their status updates that they don't bother to mention to their partner.

What makes Facebook appealing is also what makes it dangerous from an infidelity standpoint: it connects you to those you otherwise wouldn't meet or renew friendships with, it involves a degree of distance and it's easy. Chatting via Facebook is so much more innocent than, say, calling up the cute new guy at the office or, for that matter, an ex-lover—two of the most common cheating partners. Innocent interaction can quickly evolve into a state of emotional distraction (i.e., simply too much time and energy going to someone outside of your romantic relationship) or into near-infidelity, such as full-on flirtations or emotional affairs. Is Our Facebook Romance Real?

How much emotional energy is going into our cyber relationships? One of my clients—a recently single entrepreneur and self-proclaimed "recovering Facebook junkie"—said it best:

"Facebooking is great for those who are never, ever, under any circumstances, going to cheat on their partner. It's also great for cheaters who are going to cheat either way—Facebook just makes it easier. Facebook represents a serious problem for folks like me—the teeterers. By that I mean those of us who are not 100 percent likely to cheat, but who might, unintentionally, teeter on fidelity's edge. Facebook is to teeterers what a bar is to recovering alcoholics. Don't go there!"

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