Before the advent of social networking and online dating, couples used to meet through mutual friends and acquaintances. But now that people are hooking up online and sometimes falling in love without knowing anything about the other person's social circles, scientists are wondering about what they call the "effect of merging friend networks" on marriages. Although Katherine Fiori, co-author of a new study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, tells Live Science that much has been studied regarding in-law relationships, a friendship's effect on a marriage is murkier. Results in the new report may seem obvious: They suggest that not liking the friends who come along with one's spouse can have a negative impact on a marriage's survival. As the researchers note, however, there are some surprising subtleties to untangle.
Studying 355 heterosexual couples (both black and white pairs, but not interracial ones) surveyed after they wed in Wayne County, Mich., in 1986, researchers found 70% of white couples were married 16 years later when men said early on in the marriage they liked their wives' friends, but barely 50% were when they didn't. Women's feelings about their husbands' friends didn't seem to impact marriage survival, and it apparently didn't matter at all with black couples. That said, when husbands viewed their wives' friends as taking it a step further and actually interfering with their marriages, the chance of divorce doubled, regardless of race. Many questions linger, but Live Science reports the researchers are especially intrigued by how modern dating and networking will impact divorce rates. (Divorce rates jump if this type of spouse drinks a lot more than the other.)