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Social Media and Divorce: Is internet infidelity a problem in Colorado?

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- There are more than a billion users on Facebook daily, and many of us are on several social media platforms. However, with greater access to connecting with friends and family also comes easier access to infidelity.

According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 81% of attorneys have used social media evidence during divorce cases. In fact, KRDO asked viewers in southern Colorado if social media has ever negatively affected their relationship, and the responses were overwhelming.

“I've watched it ruin many. Emotional cheating is the same as physical! What a shame!!!” responded one viewer.

“Yes, DEFINITELY. It is a big reason for many failed relationships and even friendships and family members not speaking," added another viewer.

Such comments are just a microcosm of the epidemic tying social media and divorce.

"Yeah, social media is used as a tool to cheat," said Lisa Hall, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Louisville.

"I would say things have accelerated in the last five years or so," she said. "I think there's obviously tons of hooking up. Just flat out hooking up happening. Just sex. And so many platforms for people to reach out."

Hall has been practicing as a licensed marriage and family therapist in Colorado for more than 20 years. She said she's seen clients dealing with social media infidelity constantly. Because we have social media on our cell phones, in the palm of our hands at all times, it's made cheating extremely easier.

Hall says one red flag is when your partner seems over-protective of their mobile device.

"I think when you feel that you don't want to share something with your partner, or you're afraid they might see it, that's a sign you need to be careful," said Hall. "I think you can feel in your body, 'Hmm, that was a little weird,' or 'that was over the boundary.' Your partner is supposed to be your best friend who you don't hide things from."

Todd Burnham is a divorce attorney in Colorado Springs who runs Burnham Law and has seen the same factors play a role in local divorces.

"Yeah, we see it all the time. That's going to cause divorces. That's going to cause breakups," he said.

Burnham says he's seen the social media cheating trend pick up over the last decade.

"You're going to find people that are on Facebook, for instance, who reconnect with the college girlfriend or boyfriend ... and depending on the situation that they're in ... they think that those former glory days were when you were at your best self."

Not only does social media cheating hurt your spouse, it will hurt you in court.

"We use those statements or posts to impeach the credibility of the opposing party. So chances are very strong that if we are on the other side, we are looking at all your social media. So I would strongly suggest pressing delete," said Burnham.

"And I think the best advice we give to our clients is [don't] pretend a judge is going to read this, pretend your kids are going to read this,'" he said.

According to a 2017 American Community Survey, Colorado ranked in the top 10 of states regarding divorce, with over 13 couples per 1,000 getting divorced that year alone.

The good news is that according to the CDC, divorce rates across the U.S. keep declining. In 1989, the divorce rate in the U.S. was 48.3%. By 2000 the rate was 40.7%. In 2018, the divorce rate had dropped to just 36%.

But to keep marriages happy, it isn’t just about managing social media in a healthy way, it's being on the phone too much in general.

“It’s not creating a more joyful, happier, full existence for a lot of people. We’re seeing more depression and suicide and loneliness, right? Because we’re not fully knowing each other," said Hall.

In the meantime, if you are on social media and you have a partner, just be transparent.

"I think that people who want to protect their marriages put themselves out there less. Send fewer messages and don't present themselves in a way 'as searching,'" said Hall.

"People who have nothing to hide act like they have nothing to hide. So if your spouse has nothing to hide, you're going to know their password. You're going to occasionally use their phone when your phone is charging ... You're going to see their banners come up and their notifications and they're not going to act like they care."

Some recommendations from Hall on how to have a healthy relationship in the digital age:

  • Take social media breaks – it’s more than okay to unplug.
  • Talk about times when your phone is off limits so you can connect in person.
  • Consider sharing social media accounts or at least passwords.
  • Unfriend any previous significant others on social media – there’s no reason to leave those doors open.
  • Consider talking with a licensed marriage and family therapist who has training in dealing with infidelity and healing betrayal.

And if there is infidelity found within a relationship, especially because of social media, Hall says she does believe it is still possible to heal the relationship, depending on the couple, if they're willing to see a trained professional.

"I think it can be healed. And I think to truly heal it and not just put a Band-Aid on and move on, definitely, you need to seek professional help with someone who's licensed, with someone who has a lot of post-graduate training in dealing with infidelity and healing betrayal," said Hall. "People want to handle this on their own and it can just be a mess. The kind of response you want to see is a partner who responds to you and wants to talk about what your concerns are and that you work on this as a team."

To hear more from Todd Burnham, you can check out his podcast "Deep Bench With Todd Burnham," here.

Josh Helmuth

Josh is an anchor for Good Morning Colorado. Learn more about Josh here.

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