Social networking infidelity: Understanding the impact and exploring rules and boundaries in intimate partner relationships



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The Internet has become an integral aspect of our daily lives, playing a role in work, leisure and personal relationships. Over the past fifteen years, researchers and clinicians have noted the intricate ways that the Internet impacts our clients’ lives, creating both positive and negative outcomes. Recently, social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have become increasingly popular, bringing with their popularity new issues. At this time there is a limited empirical understanding of the role social networking sites play in our clients’ lives and the impact these sites have on offline relationships. These gaps in the literature call attention to the need for research surrounding social networking sites. The purpose of this dissertation is threefold. First, to review existing literature on Internet infidelity, providing a discussion of where Facebook infidelity fits into the continuum of infidelity behaviors. Second, to answer four questions related to social networking site infidelity: (1) How do people interpret Facebook activities in regard to their offline intimate relationship? (2) What impact does Facebook have on offline relationships? (3) How might differences in gender impact perceptions of Facebook behaviors? (4) What similarities and differences exist between the proposed study’s findings and previous story completion studies on offline and online infidelity? The third aim was to explore how couples in committed relationships communicate about rules and boundaries for Internet behaviors. The research questions for this study are: (1) What rules and boundaries about social networking site use do couples have? (2) How are these rules and boundaries communicated in the relationship? (3) How are these rules and boundaries monitored? (4) How does age and familiarity with the Internet and social networking sites impact couples’ communication about rules and boundaries? The format of the dissertation will be three articles corresponding to the three purposes mentioned above. Chapter 1 will introduce the articles and will provide support for the purpose of the studies. Chapter 2 is a conceptual paper that highlights where Facebook infidelity fits on the continuum of offline and online infidelity behaviors. Chapters 3 and 4 are empirical studies, with Chapter 3 explored how people interpret Facebook behaviors in the context of their offline relationship, while Chapter 4 examined what rules and boundaries couples have for online behaviors and how these rules are communicated and monitored. Finally, Chapter 5 offers a concluding chapter highlighting how these three articles combined offer a collective understanding of how Facebook infidelity compares to other forms of infidelity, how people view the impact of Facebook infidelity behaviors in the context of intimate relationships, and how couples communicate rules and boundaries about social networking sites for their intimate partner relationships.



Facebook infidelity, Internet infidelity, Social networking sites