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Digital media and divorce: more channels, less intimacy

Digital communications technology has profoundly changed the way many people interact with others. Cellphones and social media create a host of opportunities for people to connect with others. And yet those same technologies can keep couples from turning to each other and end up contributing to divorce.

The most obvious way in which this occurs is when a marriage partner uses texting, e-mail, Facebook or another contemporary communications outlet to carry on an affair or some other inappropriate relationship. To be sure, there were affairs before Facebook. But today’s ubiquitous communications channels make it incredibly easy to interact with others without a spouse’s knowledge.

Indeed, the availability of these channels is one of the reasons behind the increase in cheating by wives. Historically, husbands were much more likely to cheat than wives. In recent years, however, data from the well respected General Social Survey has shown an increase in the percentage of women who have affairs. The percentage of wives who cheat is still not as high as for husbands. But it has gone up 40 percent in the last twenty years.

Of course, an affair does not necessarily have to lead to divorce. Indeed, some psychologists estimate that about 70 percent of couples in which infidelity is an issue end up staying together – at least for the near term.

It is also important to recognize that communications technology can harm marriages even in the absence of an affair. Instead of talking with each other, or watching a common television show, many couples now spend evenings on their respective digital devices. The resulting loss of emotional intimacy is often one of the causes of divorce.

Source: WTLV / WJXX, "Local marriage counselor weights in on sexting scandals," Michelle Quesada, July 25, 2013

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