Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have put a world of interpersonal connections quite literally in our hip pocket.
Experts say those same social networks have made it easier for people who are inclined to cheat on their significant other to do so with partners both familiar and previously unknown.
"Social media seems to have added fuel to the fire of infidelity," says Joyce Marter, a licensed psychotherapist and the CEO of Chicago-based counseling practice Urban Balance. "Former flames are just a click away. Appropriate relationship boundaries can become blurry. For example, when does casual messaging cross the line into an emotional affair?"
'Social media offers an unprecedented opportunity to engage in unfaithful behavior'
"For people who are morally willing to and motivated to, social media offers an unprecedented opportunity to engage in unfaithful behavior," adds Benjamin Karney, a professor of social psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles who has extensively studied interpersonal relationships and marriage. "You don't even have to find somebody who is in your neighborhood. You can flirt and exchange sexual communication with anyone who is willing to do it on planet Earth who is holding a smartphone."
That's something Anthony Weiner, the disgraced politician who has become the de facto poster boy for cheating in the digital age, knows all too well.
Weiner repeatedly used social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to engage in affairs, getting caught in 2011, 2013 and again this year. The first time cost him his seat in Congress. The second cost him any chance he had of becoming the mayor of New York and any chance of reclaiming his once promising political career, period. The most recent time cost him his marriage to Huma Abedin.
"The negative costs of being caught again, for Anthony Weiner, were high and very humiliating," Karney says. "For him to engage in this behavior suggests that he feels unable to stop."
'Social media has added tremendous pressure in relationships'
There haven't been any studies directly linking increased usage of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to an increased likelihood to cheat. That being said, experts say social media could lead to marital erosion, and not just because it provides an outlet where partners could kindle a flame outside of the marriage.
"Social media has added tremendous pressure in relationships," says Mikki Meyer, a New York-based licensed marriage and family therapist. "Friendships are judged by the actions which are displayed on the internet, and information allows strangers to impose their views about what might be going on. No one really knows what happens behind closed doors, and information is often skewed depending upon the source or their perception and judgment."
What's displayed on the internet isn't always reality, which is why couples shouldn't necessarily benchmark themselves against the happy images portrayed by their friends and family online.
"People can look on Facebook and compare their own marriage negatively to the marriages they see on Facebook because people only post the good stuff on Facebook," Malec says. "Sometimes, people just assume that everyone else's marriage is much better than their own."