How Social Media Overload Can Lead to Break-Ups

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As life becomes increasingly public in the era of Facebook and Twitter, relationships are changing too -- making "It's Complicated" more than just a status update.

People who spend more time on social networking sites, according to growing evidence, report more conflict in their relationships and are more likely to break up, often citing Facebook or Twitter as part of the problem.

The findings are as new as the medium, making it still unclear what's causing what. For now, experts said, it's worth exercising caution when posting, searching and browsing online -- even if you're not necessarily seeking out gossip.

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"If you're looking through your newsfeed and you see stuff related to your partner and you find out that an attractive person you don't know is posting likes or comments on your partner's photos, you might start wondering, 'Who is this person?'" said Tara Marshall, a psychologist at Brunel University in London. "That can be a huge catalyst for jealousy for certain individuals."

"Before social media, if you wanted to find information about ex-partners or new partners, you had to do more digging with higher risk strategies," she added. "You had to trail them or engineer situations to bump into them. It was much more effortful. Now, having Facebook, which is anonymous and free, it's much easier to track people."

The Internet has sparked many romances by offering an explosion in opportunities for social interaction, and social networking sites have been a boon for relationships in many ways. Making the dramatic switch from "single" to "in a relationship," for example, can make people feel more secure in new relationships. Even a little cyberstalking can reassure new lovers that there is nothing obvious to worry about.

But the public nature of social networking sites also makes them a potential breeding ground for jealousy and mistrust. A 2011 survey found that Facebook was cited in as many as a third of divorce filings, often mentioning inappropriate messages to other friends or mean posts and comments. And in a study published in 2010, more than 80 percent of attorneys surveyed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers said that they had noticed a rise in the use of social networking evidence in divorce trials over the previous five years.

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More than a billion people actively use Facebook every month and Twitter has more than 550 million active users, making these kinds of sites an intriguing new frontier for relationship researchers. Increasingly, studies are starting to link social media activity with negative romantic consequences.

Marshall's research has shown, for example, that people who spend lots of time analyzing a partner's Facebook page report greater feelings of jealousy and mistrust. Other studies show that people who linger on the pages of their exes end up having a harder time getting over ended relationships.

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