How To Know If Your Partner Is Facebook Cheating

When social media “friendship” becomes courtship.

Woman confronting partner about his online activity peshkov, Konstantin Postumitenko | Canva

The Internet makes it easy for people inclined to cheat on their partners. However, unlike sites such as Ashley Madison, all social media was not designed to facilitate relational straying. Yet, for those inclined, social media can facilitate cheating.

Where is the line between social media friendship and courtship when committed partners make new acquaintances online?

RELATED:5 Signs Your Partner Is Using Facebook Or Instagram To Cheat On You


Here's how to know if your partner is Facebook cheating:

1. Understand the components of online infidelity

Internet infidelity involves the same two components as traditional infidelity — emotional and sexual. A study by Cravens and Whiting indicated that the online behaviors most likely to be viewed as cheating are online sex, online dating, other online sexual behavior, and emotional involvement. Of the four scenarios, 60 to 82 percent of survey participants rated online emotional behavior as more harmful than online sexual behavior.

Although social media was not directly created to promote online infidelity, Cravens and Whiting report that an increasing number of divorces cite Facebook use as a factor contributing to the termination of the marriage. Yet, there is widespread disagreement about what is considered “cheating” and whether people understand how to know if their partner is using social media to cheat.


RELATED: The Real Reason Facebook Causes One-Third Of Divorces

2. Look at who your partner “likes”

Social media facilitates a wide range of methods of communication and expression, many of which create relational problems. Cravens and Whiting note that, consequently, modern couples face the challenge of deciding what types of social media behavior are inappropriate.

They state that problematic behaviors include friending past flames, commenting on or communicating with attractive users, and failing to display the appropriate relationship status. They report a sad statistic many people know from personal experience that raises suspicion: Some users refuse to accept a friend request from their partners.

Cravens and Whiting report that, unlike more impersonal sites to correspond with people globally, Facebook is routinely used to interact with people we know offline. They recognize the significance of this reality, noting that partners are more disturbed by online interaction that is likely to continue in the real world.


Cravens and Whiting also report that a common denominator characterizing suspicious social media behavior is secrecy — from private messages to fake profiles, Social media can facilitate relationship development under the radar. Two risk factors gleaned through such research appear to be offline connection and secrecy, which is relevant because other research notes that while one component of online infidelity is sexual excitement, the other is secrecy.

3. Do they use social media to satisfy emotional needs

Another risk factor that could make social media users susceptible to online infidelity is the ease with which Facebook creates emotional involvement — one of the reasons people use the site in the first place.

Nelson and Salawu note that Facebook facilitates online emotional involvement through media dependency theory, in which a social media platform facilitates self-disclosure and emotional infidelity. Their research reveals that even married people use Facebook to satisfy emotional needs.

They explain how high levels of self-disclosure through social media posting create opportunities for other users to come forward and demonstrate understanding and care during times of need. Not surprisingly, they note that such behavior may create emotional distance between married partners.


RELATED: The Newest Way People Are Using Facebook To Cheat On Their Partners

4. You notice online displays of public affection

Straying partners often embarrass their partners with flirtatious public behavior. This dynamic operates online where attention showered on romantic alternatives is put on display for all “friends” to see.

Cravens and Whiting note how individuals might be embarrassed by partners who appear to be publicly pursuing relational alternatives by commenting on photos or by the content they post on their social media. They note that other adverse consequences of extra-relational behavior on social media include blocking or unfriending, invasion-of-privacy allegations, contacting third parties who are the target of affection, and posting unflattering information on the offending partner's wall.

Some cases of social media courtship land on my desk when online relational pursuit crosses the line from inappropriate to illegal, and the target of affection becomes a victim in criminal court. I have handled social media stalking cases that began with positive comments on posts and “liking” photographs, only to escalate to literally hundreds of unwanted direct messages a day. Friends, fans, and followers can become cyberstalkers.


You can use social media in relationships in a positive way.

Now, some good news: social media can also be used to strengthen existing relationships as long as there are no signs of infidelity and an understanding of how to know if your partner is Facebook cheating. Nelson and Salawu note that married couples can use Facebook to enhance communication, which reduces emotional distance.

When committed couples use social media to enhance their offline relationship instead of as a vehicle to build new relationships with relational alternatives, it can be a healthy mode of supplementary communication. Healthy social media use between partners builds bridges, not boundaries, and facilitates online socializing as a couple.


RELATED: The Most Surprising Reason People Cheat, According To Research

Wendy Patrick, JD, Ph.D., is a career prosecutor, author, and behavioral expert. She is the author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People.