Divorce and Twitter: What’s the Connection?

Links to a recent study associating active Twitter users with an increased risk of cheating and divorce filled my newsfeed yesterday. The study shows a direct correlation between heavy Twitter use and the likelihood of divorce across age ranges. Many of the pieces that featured the study implied that romantic or sexual interactions on the social media platform were the precipitating factor in the end of the union.

But I’m not so sure it’s that straightforward.

You see, our brains are not that different than mice in a lab. We like rewards. And technology has capitalized on that part of human drive and motivation. You gets levels and badges for succeeding in a game on your phone, you get a buzz or chime every time someone contacts you and, on most social media, you vie for likes and shares. Each of those interactions is like giving the proverbial mouse a treat, eliciting a release of dopamine in the brain. And, just like a mouse that receives too much cheese, those electronic rewards fatten us as well. We become accustomed to that higher level of stimulation.

And real life, including real marriage, doesn’t offer neurochemical rewards on such a frequent basis.

But cheating does.

The risks and newness of an affair bring with it an increased production in dopamine, rewarding the cheater for his or her indiscretions.

So maybe the problem isn’t really found in flirty Tweets. Maybe the problem is that we’re training our brains to require an unnatural level of rewards. And then it becomes all too easy to seek the desired attention elsewhere.

Unless your spouse has a gold star chart for on the fridge. Who knows? Maybe that will become the new affair prevention technique:)

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14 thoughts on “Divorce and Twitter: What’s the Connection?

  1. Real marriage can offer neurochemical rewards like that, if you check in with each other frequently online. Tweet, IM, fb, etc. And I agree that the contacts don’t have to be flirty! I’ve seen marriages end over too much online gaming,,,, but, you know, there’s always more than that, it seems.

    1. So true about recognizing and using the little rewards in marriage. I just got a rush of dopamine this morning when a love note fell out of the cupboard where we keep the coffee cups:)

      What makes me nervous about Twitter (and some games) is that the level of stimulation is much higher than real life can achieve unless you’re a stockbroker on Wall St.

      1. It’s true. It is. Acknowledged. And there are marriages that definitely fall apart – in part – because of it. But I’ve gotta believe there’s always some rot at the core first. (shrug) But maybe the rot is just immaturity on the part of the people involved. lol God knows, there’s plenty of that in the mix. Bless our communal little hearts. ❤

  2. I wonder, if, perhaps, those more likely to cheat are also more likely to use Twitter for the same reasons – dopamine buzz… Just a thought. It’s tough to figure out which came first. The Twitters or the affairs. 🙂

    1. I wanted to get into the whole correlations vs causation thing, but I was running late for work:) I think it probably goes both ways – those who seek higher levels of stimulation are drawn to interests that provide them. But I also think that certain areas of technology are grooming all of us to increase our stimulation threshold.

      1. I totally agree. I’m glad you wrote about this. No matter the cause, people need to be aware of what this kind of stuff does to our brains, and the consequences.

  3. Best, clearly analyzed and succinct comments I have ever read on the motivation of a cheater. I wish I could forward it to my ex who as I mentioned previously, had 25 plus affairs and blamed his behavior on everything under the sun but himself. You must be a wonderful math teacher, your analytical skills are amazing. Thank you for using your abilities to help me and your other followers gain clarity in the realm of divorce. Wishing you a joyous Easter season. If I ever travel your way I would be happy to help you weed your new garden 🙂

    1. I think that’s the first time anyone ever complemented my analytical skills:) Usually I’m told to dial them down.

      And I’ll take you up on that offer to help weed!

      Thanks for the kind words and support:)

  4. I agree with the previous comment. You really summed it all up. Wow. It’s sad, because our next generation of children and teens have grown up tweeting and using FB. It’s sort of scary.

    1. It kinda scares me too but then I think every generation feels that way about the next and the impact of technology Can’t you see the following claim after the lightbulb became the norm, “It’s scary; having the ability to have light all night is really changing our youth. They now stay up at all hours.” It’s definitely impacting them, changing how they relate to world. I think it’s important to understand the impact but I also have faith in our ability to adapt:)

  5. I don’t think the problem is with Twitter. Or Facebook. Or the Internet. Really I don’t. I certainly can see that when people are frustrated in their marriages, disconnected, certain critical needs are not being met, they will turn to other outlets to get those needs met — Twitter might be one of them for some people. It’s the symptom, however, of a problem within the marriage and/or the person, not the cause of it.

    I have seen, at times, people say that “healthy couples” shouldn’t be on things like Facebook. Or that if you want to keep your mates, you need to control their access to Facebook at such. I think it’s, frankly, absurd.

    Does the Internet (including social media) make cheating easier? Yes, but if someone is really unhappy and is bent on cheating or wanting to leave their spouse, they will do it anyway. Divorce and cheating didn’t get invented in the Internet age (in fact, statistics say that, for men, the % who cheat has not changed really for decades). The divorce rate is actually NOT 50%, and it peaked in 1981 nevertheless, and has been falling every since. The Internet did not really get going in a serious way until 1998. If twitter or facebook were to blame, then those percentages should be SOARING, not falling. (although women cheat at a much higher rate than they did 30 years ago).

    Is there SOME correlation? I suppose. A recent survey of U.S. divorce lawyers shows that interaction on Facebook is an underlying cause of the break up of the marriage in 20 percent of American divorce cases.

    But again, I think we are looking at “symptom” not cause of divorce. If the only way you can keep a spouse is by controlling all their interactions with the world, you don’t have a marriage. And acting more like a parent by forbidding a spouse to use twitter or facebook is, to me, counter-productive and could actually drive a spouse out the door.

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