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Cheating, Breakup, and Divorce:
Is Facebook Use to Blame?
Russell B. Clayton, MA,
Alexander Nagurney, PhD,
and Jessica R. Smith, MA
The purpose of the present study was to investigate the relationship between using the social networking site
known as Facebook and negative interpersonal relationship outcomes. A survey of 205 Facebook users aged 18–
82 was conducted using a 16-question online survey to examine whether high levels of Facebook use predicted
negative relationship outcomes (breakup/divorce, emotional cheating, and physical cheating). It was hypoth-
esized that those with higher levels of Facebook use would demonstrate more negative relationship outcomes
than those with lower use. The study then examined whether these relationships were mediated by Facebook-
related conﬂict. Furthermore, the researchers examined length of relationship as a moderator variable in the
aforementioned model. The results indicate that a high level of Facebook usage is associated with negative
relationship outcomes, and that these relationships are indeed mediated by Facebook-related conﬂict. This series
of relationships only holds for those who are, or have been, in relatively newer relationships of 3 years or less.
The current study adds to the growing body of literature investigating Internet use and relationship outcomes,
and may be a precursor to further research investigating whether Facebook use attributes to the divorce rate,
emotional cheating, and physical cheating.
Relationships, both personal and impersonal, tran-
spire daily, and the dynamics of such relationships are
constantly changing and being inﬂuenced by numerous fac-
tors outside of the actual relationship itself. Social networking
sites (SNSs), such as Facebook, have provided a relatively new
platform for interpersonal communication. Research has
shown that Facebook is used most frequently to keep in touch
with others and to monitor regularly friends’ activities.
ditionally, Facebook has been found to be used to monitor the
activities of current romantic partners.
others’ activities has been cited to leading to negative rela-
tionship outcomes such as online and ofﬂine relational in-
the current study’s aim is to examine whether
Facebook use may lead to negative relationship outcomes,
and whether those outcomes lead to emotional cheating,
physical cheating, breakup, and divorce.
SNSs Effects on Interpersonal Relationships
At the beginning of October 2012, the SNS Facebook
reached one billion monthly active users and 552 million daily
As a result of such popularity, Facebook has
become a major area of interest for researchers. The exploration
of the negative impacts of SNSs such as Internet addiction,
anxiety, jealousy, and its effects on normal human behavior in
general are a few areas that have become a major concern.
One study involving 2,368 college students found ‘‘a signiﬁ-
cant negative relationship between frequency of engaging in
Facebook chat and time spent preparing for class,’’ which
suggest that online chatting may somehow detract from
learning and schoolwork.
A more severe or dangerous
concern as a result of the increasing popularity of SNSs is the
behavior associated with stalking. Facebook has been found to
facilitate behaviors that are symptomatic of personal intrusion,
which have consequences for users’ security and privacy.
Recently, one study found that exposure post-breakup to
an ex-partner’s Facebook proﬁle may obstruct the process
of healing and moving on.
Moreover, previous studies
have shown that Facebook jealousy, partner survelliance,
ambigous information, compulsive Internet use, and online
portrayal of intimate relationships can be damaging to ro-
Internet use in general, not just
SNSs, have been shown to inﬂuence romantic relationship
quality negatively. Kerkhof
found that compulsive Internet
users reported greater conﬂict with their partners, more
feelings of exclusion and concealment in addition to lower
commitment, lower feelings of passion and intimacy, and less
Department of Journalism, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, Missouri.
Department of Psychology, University of Hawaii, Hilo, Hawaii.
Department of Marriage and Family Therapy, St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas.
CYBERPSYCHOLOGY,BEHAVIOR,AND SOCIAL NETWORKING
Volume 16, Number 10, 2013
ªMary Ann Liebert, Inc.
disclosure. Additional research has found that monitoring an
ex-partner’s Facebook proﬁle, such as viewing photos, sta-
tuses, and check-ins, is associated with an increased likeli-
hood of engaging in other obsessive behaviors.
SNSs enable romantic partners to have access to more in-
formation about their signiﬁcant other.
that interpersonal electronic surveillance is more likely to occur
in younger people, perhaps suggesting that younger individ-
uals who are in shorter or newer realtionships may use sur-
vallance strategies as an information-seeking technique toward
their partners. While this may serve as a positive inﬂuence in
getting to know one another and learning about each other’s
past, it may also provoke feelings of jealousy that could enter
into the relationship. Muise
found that Facebook use in-
creases jealousy amongst romantic partners in which ambi-
gous information discovered on a romantic partner’s proﬁle
page induced romantic jealousy. Therefore, it may be possible
that Facebook induced jealousy may serve as a feedback loop
in which a romantic partner uses Facebook excessively to un-
cover additional information about their partner in order to
reduce ambiguity in the information they have uncovered.
Furthermore, research has been conducted to examine re-
lationship satisfaction through the use of Facebook amongst
dating partners and how they portrayed their intimate rela-
tionship and relationship status on their Facebook proﬁles.
Results revealed that disagreements over Facebook statuses
were associated with lower levels of relationship satisfaction,
but only for females.
In addition, Elphinston and Noller
discovered that Facebook intrusion, by means of surveillance
behaviors and jealous cognitions, was associated with rela-
tionship dissatisfaction for undergraduate college students
who were currently in romantic relationships.
The Current Study
The current research study hopes to add to the body of
literature pertaining to the effects of Facebook use on rela-
tionship outcomes. The researchers conceptualize Facebook-
related conﬂict as whether Facebook use increases relationship
complications in intimate romantic relationships. Negative
relationship outcomes were conceptualized as whether
Facebook use inﬂuences likelihood for emotional cheating,
physical cheating, relationship breakup, and divorce. As a
result, the researchers predicted that Facebook usage and
negative relationship outcomes will be positively related,
Facebook-related conﬂict and negative relationship out-
comes will be positively related, and that Facebook-related
conﬂict will mediate the relationship between Facebook
usage and negative relationship outcomes.
Given the prior research mentioned by Tokunaga,
researchers predicted that the length of relationship will
moderate the meditational effect of conﬂict such that this
mediated effect will only hold for those who are in shorter
duration relationships, since these relationships are those
considered to be most unstable and hence the most suscep-
tible to conﬂict.
H1: Facebook usage and negative relationship outcomes will
be positively related.
H2: Facebook-related conﬂict and negative relationship out-
comes will be positively related.
H3: Facebook-related conﬂict will mediate the relationship
between Facebook usage and negative relationship outcomes.
H4: Length of relationship will moderate the meditational
effect of Facebook-related conﬂict such that this mediated
effect will only hold for those who are in shorter duration
Participants were 205 Facebook users. To obtain partici-
pants, the researchers updated their own Facebook proﬁle
statuses with an online survey link created on www.qualtrics
.com. The convenience sample included, but was not limited
to, college-aged students. The researchers included a preface
to the survey link with a description of the study. The preface
included a statement informing participants that partici-
pation in the study was voluntary. The participants’ ages
ranged from 18 to 82 years old (M=33, SD =14.26). Most
participants (89%) were Caucasian, 7% were Hispanic, 2%
were African American, and 2% were Asian American. The
majority of participants (62%) were female.
Materials included a 16-question survey. The survey in-
cluded demographic questions, as well as questions about
participants’ perceived levels of Facebook use. Additionally,
the survey asked participants if they had encountered rela-
tionship conﬂict with their partner or former partner as a
result of high levels of Facebook use. Lastly, the survey asked
participants if high levels of Facebook use led to a breakup or
divorce, emotional cheating, and physical cheating with a
current or former partner.
Relationships. In order for the researchers to understand
to whom the participants’ answers were directed, the survey
instructed participants to answer the question, ‘‘Are you
currently in a romantic relationship?’’ If the participants an-
swered ‘‘Yes,’’ they were then asked to type how many
months or years they had been in that relationship. If the
participants answered ‘‘No,’’ the researchers analyzed their
data in correspondence to the former partner. In total, 144
participants (79%) responded that they were currently in a
romantic relationship, while 59 (21%) reported being cur-
rently single. The average relationship length for those who
reported being in a relationship was 103 months (SD =144
Facebook use. High levels of Facebook use was opera-
tionally deﬁned, in regards to the current study, as the
average of two questions developed by the researchers. The
questions asked, ‘‘How often do you use Facebook?’’
and ‘‘How often do you view friends’ proﬁles on Facebook?’’
Data were gathered using a Likert-type scale: A =‘‘never,’’
B=‘‘monthly,’’ C =‘‘weekly,’’ D =‘‘daily,’’ and E =‘‘hourly.’’
These questions were highly correlated, r(203) =0.48,
p<0.001, and were therefore combined into a single variable.
Facebook-related conﬂict. The researchers developed six
questions to measure negative relationship outcomes as a
result of Facebook use as a mediator variable. The six ques-
tions included such items as ‘‘How often do you have an
argument with your signiﬁcant other as a result of excessive
Facebook use?’’ and ‘‘How often do you have an argument
718 CLAYTON ET AL.
with your signiﬁcant other as a result of viewing friends’
Facebook proﬁles?’’ The questions were answered by using a
Likert-type scale: A =‘‘never,’’ B =‘‘monthly,’’ C =‘‘weekly,’’
D=‘‘daily,’’ and E =‘‘hourly.’’ Cronbach’s alpha for the scale
Negative relationship outcomes. The researchers devel-
oped three questions to measure the criterion variable in the
current study, such as ‘‘Have you physically cheated on your
signiﬁcant other with someone you have connected or re-
connected with on Facebook?’’ The researchers condensed the
answers into dichotomous yes/no answer choices. Once av-
eraged, the Kuder Richardson (KR-20) measure of reliability
The mean for the Facebook-related conﬂict scale was 1.34
(SD =0.49), and the mean for the negative relationship out-
comes scale was 1.84 (SD =0.29). The mean of the Facebook
usage variable was 3.60 (SD =0.70). In order to test the hy-
pothesis that Facebook-related conﬂict would mediate the
relationship between Facebook usage and negative relation-
ship outcomes, regression analyses were conducted accord-
ing to the speciﬁcations set out by Andrew Hayes’ PROCESS
for SPSS using model four.
Facebook usage was entered as
the independent variable (X) and negative relationship out-
comes was entered as the outcome variable (Y). As a test of
mediation, Facebook-related conﬂict was entered as the me-
diator variable (M). A signiﬁcant relationship emerged
(b=0.24, p<0.001), demonstrating a positive relationship be-
tween Facebook usage and Facebook-related conﬂict. A sec-
ond signiﬁcant relationship emerged (b=0.37, p<0.001),
demonstrating a positive relationship between Facebook-re-
lated conﬂict and negative relationship outcomes. Finally, the
relationship between Facebook usage and negative relation-
ship outcomes became nonsigniﬁcant (b=0.02, p=0.370). This
pattern of results demonstrates that Facebook-related conﬂict
does mediate the relationship between Facebook usage and
negative relationship outcomes.
In order to test the moderating effect of relationship length,
the sample was divided based upon a median split (medi-
an =36 months). Those participants who reported being in a
relationship of 36 months or less were categorized in the
shorter length group (n=133), whereas those who reported
being in relationships of longer than 36 months were placed
in the longer length group (n=72). A regression analysis was
conducted according to the speciﬁcations set out by Andrew
Hayes’ PROCESS for SPSS using model ﬁve.
For the shorter
length group, Facebook usage predicted Facebook-related
conﬂict (b=0.13, p<0.001), and Facebook-related conﬂict
predicted negative relationship outcomes (b=0.34, p<0.001).
The relationship between Facebook usage and negative re-
lationship outcomes became nonsigniﬁcant (b=0.08,
p=0.366). This pattern of results demonstrates that Facebook-
related conﬂict does mediate the relationship between Face-
book usage and negative relationship outcomes for those in
relatively shorter relationships. For the longer length group,
the relationship between Facebook usage and negative rela-
tionship outcomes was nonsigniﬁcant (b=0.05, p=0.726).
Therefore, further meditational analyses were not run for this
The purpose of the present study was to investigate the
relationship between high levels of Facebook use and nega-
tive relationship outcomes. The researchers hypothesized that
when an individual engages in high levels of Facebook use,
the effects of doing so may be damaging to the individual’s
interpersonal relationships. The researchers further proposed
that high levels of Facebook use could be attributed to Face-
book-related conﬂict and breakup/divorce. The results indi-
cated that high levels of Facebook usage is associated with
negative relationship outcomes (i.e., breakup/divorce and
cheating) and that this relationship is mediated by Facebook-
related conﬂict. However, these correlations only hold for
those who are in newer relationships.
The researchers hypothesized that high levels of Facebook
usage may be damaging to an individual’s interpersonal re-
lationships. ‘‘According to an article on PRNewswire,
roughly 81 percent of the United States’ most elite divorce
attorneys believe that the SNS Facebook plays a role in di-
The current study’s results support this
belief. Individuals who are on Facebook may often be indi-
rectly neglecting their partner, directly neglecting their part-
ner by communication with former partners, and developing
Facebook-related jealousy or constant partner monitoring,
which may lead to future relationship conﬂict or separation.
High levels of Facebook use may also serve as an indirect
temptation for physical and/or emotional cheating. Conﬂict
or jealousy may arise from an individual learning that his or
her partner added an ex-partner or spouse as a friend on
Facebook. Moreover, conﬂict may arise if the user is exces-
sively viewing pictures of an ex-romantic partner or begins to
communicate via Facebook chat or messages with a past ro-
mantic partner. As a result, Facebook may lead to arguments
between couples where one or both of the individuals in the
relationship are on Facebook often, which may ultimately
lead to cheating or breakup.
The results of the current study indicate that individuals
who are currently in a relationship of 3 years or less are more
likely to experience negative relationship outcomes as a result
of Facebook-related conﬂict. This ﬁnding suggests that
Facebook may be a threat to relationships that are not fully
matured. On the other hand, participants who have been in a
relationship for longer than 3 years may not be as likely to be
on Facebook as often. Therefore Facebook may not be a
concern. The researchers also suspect that these ﬁndings may
be a generational issue given that older couples may not have
Facebook accounts. Due to the amount of accessibility to
connect with past partners using Facebook, and with the
current study’s ﬁndings, the researchers suspect that Face-
book may attribute to an increase in divorce rates and inﬁ-
delity in the future.
Limitations and Implications for Further Research
The ﬁndings of the current study must be considered in the
context of several limitations. The sample included partici-
pants who were told before starting the survey that they
FACEBOOK USE AND NEGATIVE RELATIONSHIP OUTCOMES 719
would be answering questions regarding Facebook use and
relationship outcomes, and this may have skewed the data.
An additional limitation was that some items were left to
participants’ interpretation, such as the word ‘‘excessive’’
when answering questions about Facebook-related conﬂict.
Moreover, social desirability is an unavoidable issue when it
comes to self-reported data, particularly when the issues
under investigation are sensitive as in the current study.
Therefore, it is possible that social desirability effects may
have skewed the results of the study. The results should be
interpreted in light of this possibility. Since the online survey
link was distributed via the researchers’ Facebook statuses,
the current study’s sample is limited to only those who use
Facebook and who are Facebook friends (or friends of friends)
with one of the three researchers. This limitation signiﬁcantly
limits the generalizations of the ﬁndings from the current
study. The scales used in this study had not been previously
validated, and although each scale reported an alpha reli-
ability coefﬁcient of 0.70 or greater, previously validated
scales would have been preferred.
Future research should investigate whether engaging in
high amounts of other SNSs also predicts negative rela-
tionship outcomes. Additional future research should ex-
plore other mediators in the current study’s model.
Although a Facebook Connection Strategies scale exists,
which measures how individuals connect with others using
future research should explore connection
strategies as they relate to romantic relationships and what
behaviors are occurring on Facebook that may predispose
To conclude, our results indicate that high levels of Face-
book use, when mediated by Facebook-related conﬂict, sig-
niﬁcantly predict negative relationship outcomes. The current
study adds to the growing body of literature investigating
predictors of Internet use and relationship outcomes. Lastly,
the current study may be a precursor to further investigation
of whether Facebook use attributes to the divorce rate, emo-
tional cheating, physical cheating, and breakups.
Author Disclosure Statement
No competing ﬁnancial interests exist.
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Address correspondence to:
Russell B. Clayton
University of Missouri-Columbia
Department of Journalism
120 Neff Hall
Columbia, MO 65211
720 CLAYTON ET AL.