The Epidemic of Facebook Affairs

Revised 1/1/20

laptop computer open to facebook

Facebook Affairs are becoming a very hot topic in social science research. A new study by researchers at Indiana University found that Facebook users who are in ostensibly “committed” relationships sometimes use Facebook as a back-channel with potential replacement partners.

These “back-burner” partners are typically close friends or ex-partners. These relationships are kept on a digital “simmer-setting” ready to be warmed up if their current relationship cools down.

The Indiana researchers also discovered that while men on average have twice as many “simmer-setting” Facebook relationships as women, this behavior is widespread with both genders. Participants in the Indiana study revealed that at any given time, they had two Facebook relationships on the backburner, and occasionally cranked up the heat with sexual or romantic chat.

The research agency One poll described Facebook affairs in numbers so huge; it could only be described as an epidemic. This research suggests that as many as half of all women using Facebook have a back-burner beau if their current relationship fails to thrive.

We know that unhappily married women who cheat tend to rely on exit affairs, but this research is a bit hard to believe. Other research has shown that this is a growing trend, but I’m unconvinced that it has reached the level of a social norm.

Remote Control Infidelity

Facebook affairs are remote control infidelity in two senses of the word. Now for the first time in history, technology can automatically satisfy our curiosity. “Whatever became of my high-school boyfriend Joe?” is no longer a mystery.

You can find Joe in seconds…if he hasn’t already found you. “Remote Control Infidelity” is using social media to keep relational possibilities alive and percolating with potential. Research tells us that this trend is growing.

Remote Control Infidelity keeps relational possibilities alive and percolating with potential.  You not only satisfy your curiosity…you can act on it in a second.

The Research on Social Media and Facebook Affairs

Social media such as Text messaging apps and Smartphone pings often expose partners who are cheating. And Facebook is a growing venue for exposing infidelity. We have had some clients who told us that they didn’t know that Facebook tracks all their activities on the site.

Often the hurt partner is overwhelmed, burdened with the full internet history of their spouse’s affair in explicit detail. This is hard on their nervous system and may complicate the process of healing. The more triggers are afflicting the hurt partner, the more complicated the affair recovery.

How Important are Facebook Affairs and Social Media in Modern Infidelity?


Consider These Research Findings:

  • 66% of attorneys report that they have used data from Facebook as part of a divorce case.
  • The percentage of divorce lawyers who say that they have seen at least one instance of infidelity involving Facebook information within the past five years has jumped to 81%.
  • One study suggests that 35% of those who have cheated said that their affair started as a Facebook Affair.
  • In another survey, 41% of people who admitted that they had cheated said that Facebook records exposed their cheating.
  • According to another recent study, the chances that a spouse will have a Facebook affair this year is 6%.
  • 25% of all divorce actions start because of infidelity. in 2016, a full 20% of divorce actions due to infidelity have the word “Facebook” in the filing paperwork.
  • We still see the same tendency for women to trail behind men in their ease of entry into Facebook Affairs. Research tells us that most women cheat because of a fundamental dissatisfaction with their primary relationship. More than 50% of men in Facebook Affairs claim they are happily married, but that number drops down to only 33% for women in Facebook Affairs. Happily married women do not cheat at the same rate as happily married men.

The compelling feature of Facebook affairs is that they facilitate distinct kinds of infidelity.

  • People who are only looking for emotional connection can chat with an old flame and rekindle strong feelings.
  •  If you just want to hook up for sex, you can set up a time and a place.
  • And if you want both, Facebook will make it easy. Almost 20% of the world’s population is on Facebook.
  • You can revive old relationships…or start new ones.

Are You Vulnerable to a Facebook Affair?

  • Research has revealed that certain types of relationships are more prone to a Facebook affair. Couples who have relationships going back to their adolescence and couples where one partner is unusually dependent on others seem to be the most vulnerable. My guess would be that the lure of novelty and excitement are the driving factors in these cases.
  •  Facebook affairs are illegal in 3 states that have statutes forbidding adultery: Michigan, South Carolina, and Minnesota…although prosecution for infidelity is unlikely.

Facebook Affairs, Impulse Control, and the Power of the Imagination

Facebook facilitates unfaithfulness. It enables infidelity on your Smartphone in a second. People often slide into a Facebook Affair without actually planning to do so. And Facebook offers a false sense of security. Because you can chat and delete your messages, it seems that you are quite able to cover up all evidence of your cheating.

Research tells us that people who aren’t friends with their partners on Facebook, and those who have partners without Facebook accounts feel safe in their Facebook infidelities.

A recent study suggests that a tendency toward Facebook Affairs might be the result of a genetic mutation. If you like to gamble, drink, and watch horror movies, you might just have the kind of nervous system that craves excitement and novelty. This trait might increase your risk of slipping into an impulsive extra-marital relationship on Facebook.

The Indiana researchers made a critical point. Facebook is not the cause of affairs; it merely facilitates them at lightning speed. It also makes them more visible and meticulously documented.

The digital world we live in provides us with a cheap and easy “intimacy” that recruits our imagination into fantasy feelings and vividly imagined encounters. Conversing by text or direct message is so ridiculously easy, that the technology offers an illusion of intimacy.

Ideas to Keep Your Marriage Safe from Facebook Affairs:

facebook messaging can lead to affairs

  •  Set careful boundaries with your partner on social media.
  • Have a policy of transparency and openness. Have each other’s login and passwords. Or better yet, share your Facebook account activity.
  • Model responsible social media use for your children. Avoid texting, chatting, and surfing at the dinner table.
  • If you are lonely, tell your partner. Complain, don’t criticize.
  • Never post negative or critical information about your partner. Have a solid and thoughtful Facebook presence. Remember 20% of the world might be watching.
  • Communicate openly with your spouse. If you’re worried about something happening on Facebook, bring it up. If you’re slipping into something that is crossing the line … talk about it before it’s too hard for you to do so.
  •  Be careful and prudent. Avoid flirting, or entertaining flirts, choose your Facebook friends with care. And avoid old flames and past partners.

Heal a Facebook Affair with a Science-Based Couples Therapy

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Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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  1. Great article about what is becoming very common. My husband is having a facebook affair. They’ve never met.I am trying to hold on to see if it ends on its own but it is difficult. When I first found out, I made him leave and we are still living apart after 6 months. This girl is after a green card and thinks my husband is going to marry her. Nobody has filed for divorce or separation. I did everything wrong at first raging and fighting with her but now I remaining calm. He broke it off with her once last month. My husband and I have been meeting about once a week for several hours and it’s going well. I just hope I am doing the right thing.

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