People whose partners have Facebook or Twitter — virtually everyone — may find themselves in an especially tough spot. Trust is a major component of a healthy relationship, so prying into their accounts should be out of the question. But what happens when the mystery of what’s going on, like with their private messages, is too much to handle? Cheating and divorce, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Increasingly, Americans are logging into their Twitter and Facebook accounts, texting, or just plain spending quality relationship time on their phones instead. Sixty-six percent of adults, ages 18 and up, who were in married or committed relationships said they had issues with cellphone and Internet use, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, 20 percent of respondents to another survey said they answered texts or phone calls during sex. As our devices continue to distract us from our relationships, it only makes sense that our partners will get upset.

Russell Clayton, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri, and colleagues, found that Twitter users who spent more time on their accounts tweeting, scrolling through their feed, sending direct messages, and replying to followers were more likely to have conflicts with their partners. In turn, these conflicts led to a higher chance of cheating, breakup, and divorce. “I found it interesting that active Twitter users experienced Twitter-related conflict and negative relationship outcomes regardless of length of romantic relationship,” Clayton said in a press release. “Couples who reported being in relatively new relationships experienced the same amount of conflict as those in longer relationships.”

The researchers asked 581 Twitter users about their use of the social media site as well as any conflicts that arose with their partners because of it. Participants were asked if they checked the site while they had their partner’s attention, tweeted about the conflicts, or used the site to flirt with others, among other things. The researchers suggested that couples take measures to reduce tension like cutting back on social media use — though it’s likely that such behavior would continue away from one’s partner — and creating a joint Facebook or Twitter account.

The research further proves the detrimental effects of social media on relationships. A previous study by Clayton found similar results with Facebook. At the time, they found that partners who monitored participants’ Facebook use closely almost always ended up developing feelings of jealousy. These feelings usually worsen when partners, particularly men, have an easier time expressing their feelings on social media than in person. Nevertheless, those relationships that are meant to last most likely will, as long as both partners can settle on reasonable use of social media, among other things.

 

Source: Clayton R. The Third Wheel: The Impact of Twitter Use on Relationship Infidelity and Divorce. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 2014.