Meeting Online Can Affect Your Marriage
You're likely familiar with using dating apps, be it to find a significant other, a date or even just for a hookup. It's easy—start swiping and instantly connect with anyone you're interested in. These days, it's not even surprising when someone you know announces they're getting married to a person they met online. But does this novel way of meeting hide secret long-term risks?
Conflicting data of divorce risks
A 2021 study by the Marriage Foundation in the U.K. indicated married couples who met online are six times more likely to divorce compared to couples who met in a physical place via a social construct, such as at university, a workplace, through mutual friends or even neighbors.
The study surveyed 2,000 married adults who were at least 30 years old—32 percent of them who were married in the last two years met their spouses online. Twelve percent of couples who met online and have been married since the year 2000 divorced during their first three years of marriage, compared to just 2 percent for people who met through family and friends.
After taking into account the gender, age and occupation of the couples, the risk of divorce among couples who met online was found to be six times higher.
The research director of the U.K's Marriage Foundation, Harry Benson, commented that couples who meet online "might lack sufficient social capital or close support networks around them to deal with all the challenges they face when compared to those who met via friends, family or neighbors."
However, a study done in the U.S about 10 years ago found the contrary—that couples who met online were actually slightly less likely to divorce. In fact, these couples were found to have slightly higher marital satisfaction compared to people who met their partners offline.
So which is actually reflective of marriages among couples who met online? We spoke to a few marriage experts who shared their perspectives based on the trends they're seeing in the couples they're working with.
Social network and accountability play important roles
Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of "Fragile Power," said, "My experience in my work with couples mirrors the results of the Marriage Foundation study. Over the last 10 years, I've witnessed how marriages that result from connections made in social settings, such as schools, religious communities and through family and friend networks, outlast those made through dating sites and online social networks."
The strength of marriages among couples who meet offline can be attributed to their accountability to the social, religious and community networks they are both a part of, Hokemeyer explained.
"These connections come with a social contract that encourages success," he continued. "In contrast, online networks are often based on physical appearances, quick decisions and a neverending stream of options."
How, then, can couples who met through online networks strengthen their marriages?
Hokemeyer advises these couples to make connections in robust and meaningful communities.
"The couple should be in communities where they have a joint interest and others where they have individual interests," Hokemeyer said. "An example is a couple who belongs to a dinner club or religious community, but [each person also] has independent interests, such as athletic or intellectual practices."
Meeting online is just the beginning
Cary Mogerman, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), also agreed online connections tend to be more superficial, which can lead to initial problems in the relationship.
"The more superficial the connection between two people at the outset, the less likely they may be able to sustain their relationship," Mogerman said. "It is difficult to truly know a person if you don't have plenty of opportunities to see how that person interacts with others and with you—how that person handles and carries themselves day-to-day.
"A relationship initially born in the vacuum of cyberspace would still need to have an abundance of interpersonal, in-person time and experiences in order to thrive," he added.
However, Mogerman noted that the superficiality of the online connection would wane over time, especially when the couple has been in the relationship long enough to consider marriage.
"The time the parties are together in person will tell the tale over the long term, and how they have met will become less relevant to their success as a couple," he explained.
Getting to know each other in person
"It should be all fun and games until couples spend plenty of time together and share many different life experiences with each other—in person," Mogerman said. "They should spend so much time together that the circumstance of their having met online should only be the answer to the question of how they met, and have no further significance to the magnitude of their relationship after that. Only then should they even consider the topic of marriage."
Hokemeyer stressed that it's important for couples to realize the connection made through online dating apps is simply one step in a dynamic process of building a long-term relationship.
'Use dating apps and sites to meet your mate. Just don't rely on them to make the match successful.'
"Successful and rewarding marriages are complex, highly nuanced and challenging," he added. "They evolve to meet the needs of each individual in the relationship, the relationship itself and the family the relationship creates. So use dating apps and sites to meet your mate. Just don't rely on them to make the match successful."
Paul Friedman, the founder of The Marriage Foundation in the U.S., emphasized the importance of getting to know each other well before marriage.
"One must investigate the person thoroughly, and look for the negatives so [you're] not surprised by them later on," he said. "Not all negatives are a problem, none of us are perfect, but one should be clear about the person's ability to be loyal, true and aligned on the big philosophical topics that will affect your lives as a married couple."
How couples meet shouldn't matter after marriage
Once a couple is married, their commitment to each other should be the same as any other married couple, irrespective of how they met, Mogerman said.
"Like all other couples who hope to remain together, they need to treat each other honestly and with respect, and share common interests and affection," he explained.
Those of you who are married may well be able to find humor in Mogerman's concluding note:
"There's an old saying that those who approach marriage should do so with both eyes wide open. However, thereafter, each should always keep one eye closed. Successful couples are able to look beyond the minor slights and shortcomings they experience from the other party."