A Psychological Perspective
The popularity of social media platforms has been on a worldwide rise for the past few years. This year, Facebook Middle East and North Africa (MENA) announced that, as of December 31, 2015, more than 120 million people in the region were using the platform every month. Across the MENA region, almost 83% of individuals came back to Facebook every day.
Social Media and Marital Problems
There are no regional studies linking the increasing usage of a popular social media platform such as Facebook to a rise in e-affairs. However, According to the Family Guidance Department in the UAE, divorce rates and court-case marital problems have increased by at least 30% last year, with 50-60% of crises involving the use of social media.
“Social media is constantly being deemed among the main causes of marital problems, which can lead to divorce as couples dedicate less quality time to each other, or even start ignoring their spouses altogether,” says Dr Hanan Kandil, specialist psychiatrist at Zulekha Hospital.
“Very often, instead of facing problems as they arise, they tend to sweep them under the rug, which usually results in a widening of the communication gap,” she adds. Hence, communication channels which are often considered among the positive attributes of the ongoing social media frenzy, are cut – usually subconsciously – with the help of wrong attitudes and behaviours.
Does a heavy involvement with social media on both the husband and wife’s parts make a difference in the impact of a possible marital crisis? Experts highlight that an obsession with social media from both parties is highly likely to make the relationship suffer, with the problem usually only discovered at the point of irreversible damage.
“Humans have fixed time and mental energy resources. Therefore, partners dedicating an excessive amount of time to online activities deprive their relationship of the same exact portion they would otherwise spend in each other’s company, learning to enjoy doing things together,” explains Dr Kandil.
Another important factor is the psychological backdrop of e-affairs; the human mind often creates a justification system as a result, and in support, of the addiction.
“Many people who have an online affair do not view it as the same as having a physical one. They tend to justify this as ‘not really cheating’. However, it is in fact, the same. It can be even more addicting to those who engage in these types of affairs and more devastating to the families affected by them,” says Dr Farida M. Nasr, psychiatry specialist at Jefferson Regional Medical Centre, USA.
How does an e-affair really develop and why?
A seemingly harmless beginning can evolve into something more, and that is where the true danger lies. Whether the two parties connecting on the platform are complete strangers or colleagues, acquaintances, or ex-partners, the frequency of conversations within such a set-up creates a lasting bond which almost always transcends what was initially intended.
Moreover, the trap of the ‘perfect partner’ creates an illusion of fascination: “Individuals are often unaware that online lives are, on many occasions, censored, curated or even entirely faked while in real life relationships they face both positive and negative situations. This is why comparing one’s relationship can easily trigger resentment leading to a crisis,” adds Dr Kandil.
How to minimise the impact of social media on relationships:
- Plan and limit the use of social media.
- Prioritise family time so everybody wilfully takes part in activities they agree to and enjoy.
- Listen to each other with the aim of solving problems and helping your partner feel comfortable and loved. Try not to judge, blame or confront your partner.
- Married couples with children should make an effort to arrange for time without them every once in a while.
- Couples should regularly discuss their expectations within the relationship. They can sign up for pre-marriage workshops to learn about compromise in marriage and the openness and acceptance of trait differences in their partners.