Lead Author and Doctoral Student
University of Missouri
School of Journalism
The survey results suggests that Facebook use is positively correlated with relationship conflict. Moreover, the study found that excessive Facebook use is a significant predictor of "emotional and physical cheating, breakup and divorce."
So what specifically is going on here? The researchers note that "the more a person in a romantic relationship uses Facebook, the more likely they are to monitor their partner's Facebook activity more stringently, which can lead to feelings of jealousy." This jealousy, they suggest, is a major factor in inducing later conflict.
Lastly, for new relationships (i.e., three years or less), this effect was particularly apparent. The authors suggest that these couples are still discovering things about their partner, or, in their own words, the relationships "are not fully matured."
From a behavior analytic perspective, we might say that healthy relationships are established when both people have acquired a robust shared or interpersonal history of behaving with respect to one another. It is through sufficiently shared histories that two individuals can come to predict the behavior of one another, or "know what the other person is thinking" without having to say anything.
Most people who have been in a long-term relationship or marriage could attest to such a phenomena. In fact, a recent unpublished Master's Thesis from the University of Nevada, Reno's Behavior Analysis Program touches on this very phenomenon in an experimental laboratory setting.
However, it may not be enough to simply predict the behavior of your partner, since this says nothing about the quality of behavior predicted. Moreover, additional factors seem to be at play in the Facebook case, such as the histories of each partner before the relationship began.
Nevertheless, the virtual nature of the stimuli which occasion so much of our behavior in the 21st century are more dynamic than ever before in human history. Behavior analysts have much they could contribute towards understanding how this new virtual environment impacts our behavior and our relationships with others.