As lawyers practicing divorce and family law, there are certainly days when we wish Facebook never existed. Early in our cases we have “The Facebook talk” with new clients, advising that not a single word about the case or the soon to be ex should be posted on any media sites. With the understanding that nearly 20 percent of all divorce lawyers mention Facebook postings in their pleadings, most of our clients comply and act responsibly. But a new, surprising question has arisen in the context of ever present social media. When the divorce is over, should my ex still be my Facebook friend?
Many of us still want to be friends
According to a study by the QMI agency, 45 percent of us are happy to be contacted by an ex on Facebook, and yet the vast majority of us would be angry if our partner befriended their ex. Study responders felt meeting up with someone you've contacted online -- and dated -- is cheating. Additionally, 35 percent think exchanging photos equals infidelity and 25 percent say texting goes against relationship rules. So, while many of us seem to be open to a continuing “friendship” with our exes, our partners overwhelmingly disagree.
Health considerations of Facebook “stalking” and de-friending
Many people who decide to end their Facebook friendships nevertheless continue to monitor their exes’ activities on social media (sometimes called “Facebook stalking”). Tara C. Marshall, a psychology professor at Brunel University, found that “Facebook surveillance was associated with greater current distress over the breakup, more negative feelings, sexual desire, and longing for the ex-partner, and lower personal growth.” More surprisingly, those who stayed Facebook friends with their ex “reported less negative feelings, sexual desire, and longing for the former partner” — but they were “lower in personal growth.” Marshall suggests this may be because “unbidden exposure to the potentially banal status updates, comments, and photos of an ex-partner through remaining Facebook friends may have decreased any residual attraction to the ex-partner,” whereas de-friended exes “remain shrouded in an alluring mystique.”
In the end, what can we make of these studies? According to Marshall, “Avoiding exposure to an ex-partner, both offline and online, may be the best remedy for healing a broken heart.”