How Does Social Media Impact Your Relationship?
Social media has taken the world by storm since the introduction of Six Degrees in 1997 (what a throwback!). Since then, the emergence of Myspace, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, etc. dominate our daily phone use. Across the globe, it is estimated that the average individual spends at least 136 minutes per day on social media apps (Statista, 2018). Fun fact, Facebook is the most commonly uses social media site in the world! With so much time being dedicated to not only our mobile devices, but social media apps, it can have significant impacts on our relationships with our partners. How does social media impact your relationship?
A lot of research has been focused on understanding the impact that social media has specifically in relation to body image and self-esteem, but more recently research has turned to exploring the impacts social media use has on relationships. While social media can provide some wonderful opportunities to connect with others, it is important to be mindful of the negative consequences. Can you remember a time in your relationship when you were with your partner, and you found your attention more focused on Instagram than a conversation you were having? Through working with couples in therapy, phone use, and more specifically social media use, is a common topic of discussion. So, what are the negative consequences? Let’s explore them below!
Decreased Quality Time: It goes without saying that social media can make it harder to spend quality time with our partners. When you are out on a date it can be hard to resist the urge to document the experience through apps like Snapchat but pulling out our phones can send the message that our virtual followers or friends are more important than our partners. If we are having a discussion with our partner and we hear our notifications going off, it can distract us and pull attention away from our partner. All of these things can hurt, and eventually chip away at the connection or intimacy we experience with our partners and can build the bridge to resentment.
Increased Infidelity Social media offers many opportunities to connect with people all over the world. Unfortunately, it has been found that opportunity is a major factor in infidelity (Neal Ashmore Family Law Group, 2016). Social media gives people a platform to engage with others in ways that they may not outside of the virtual world. Boundaries can easily be blurred, and you may find that a connection that started as an innocent friendship has now turned into a sexual or emotional affair. It is also challenging to understand what your partner may view as infidelity. Some couples may not be comfortable with their partner liking a specific person’s picture. Other couples may find that “sliding” into a person’s DMs is where boundaries are crossed. It is important to understand your boundaries around social media in your relationship.
Decreased Relationship Satisfaction One study by Elphinston, and Noller (2011) coined the term “Facebook intrusion”, which is described by excessive Facebook use that gets in the way of romantic relationship functioning and daily functioning. This intrusion was found to promote relationship dissatisfaction and increase jealousy. Another term that has been coined is “Pphubbing” (partner phone snubbing), which describes individuals excessive phone use in the presence of their partners (Roberts & David, 2015). Similar to issues with quality time, when our partners are more engaged with social media than with us in the present moment, it can feel hurtful and lead to feeling dissatisfied in the relationship because certain communication and connection needs are being ignored.
Tendencies to Engage in Unhealthy Social Comparison Social comparison refers to the tendencies humans have to compare themselves to others (Festinger, 1954). Have you ever scrolled through social media and saw couples’ posts where they were professing their love for one another, going on vacation, buying a house, or getting engaged all while having a big smile on their faces? Did these posts make you feel jealous or question why you and your partner do not do these things? Social media creates a false sense of reality that can make us feel dissatisfied in our own relationships. We are often subjected to idealized versions of couples through different social media platforms and this can inadvertently make us feel that our relationship is bad, or we feel we are unhappy. It is important to be mindful of the fact that more often than not, people only share the “good” parts of their lives publicly. Behind the scenes these couples still have conflict and may not be as perfect as they may seem.
With all of these negative consequences that can arise from too much time on social media, here are some tips to help you build a healthier relationship with social media, and hopefully your partner!
Limit Time on Social Media It can be helpful to set a time limit each day for how much time you want to spend engaging with your social media apps.
Manage Your Account Appropriately It can feel good to occasionally go through the people or accounts we follow on different social media apps and delete accounts that make us feel bad or potentially pose temptation.
Discuss Boundaries and Expectations of Social Media with your Partner It can be difficult to understand what your partner may be comfortable or uncomfortable with in terms of behaviors on social media, so it is imperative to sit down and identify boundaries and expectations that you and your partner understand and agree to. Writing a contract that outlines these boundaries may be helpful in keeping both partners accountable and on the same page.
Take Social Media Breaks Every now and then, it may be beneficial to mute social media apps, even just for a couple days and focus on engaging with activities that promote your mental health as well as your relational health. Instead of scrolling through TikTok while you sit next to your partner, go outside and take a walk with your partner or have a game night. It can be refreshing and recharging to take a break from our apps, and I encourage you to give it a try, even for just a day or two!
Elphinston, R., & Noller, P. (2011). Time to face it! Facebook intrusion and the implications for romantic jealousy and relationship satisfaction. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 14, 631-635.
Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140. https://doi.org/10.1177/001872675400700202
Neal Ashmore Family Law Group. (2016). Social Media’s Impact on Infidelity and Divorce. https://www.northtexasdivorcelawyers.com/faq/social-medias-impact-infidelity-divorce/.
Roberts, J., & David, M. (2016). My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 134-141.
Zoe Mittman, LSW Growing up, you may have imagined your 20s to be filled with excitement, love and adventures. But life happens and reality sinks in. Your life is not what you imagined. It is complex. Filled with both pain…Read More
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