In 2019, the average person spent 144 minutes a day on social media (Clement, 2020). According to the theory of media dependence, the more dependent a person is on the media, the stronger the influence of the media on the perceptions and behaviors of the individual (Joo & Teng, 2017, p. 36). A 2018 study by Brigham Young University found that extensive use of social media is associated with decreased emotional well-being and less satisfaction in interpersonal relationships (Christensen, 2018). In other words, if you think your relationship is being negatively affected by social media, you’re not being “dramatic,” it really is. (you can read more here).
It is important not to downplay or rule out the role that social media plays in relationships. Recognizing and talking about it can help strengthen your bond.
We first highlight the positive aspects. A survey by the American Psychological Association found that 55% of Generation Z feel supported through social media. Social media allows people to connect with family and friends who may be on the other side of the world. You can connect with people who have similar interests that you may never know. In romantic relationships, where couples are long-distance or have to travel often for work, it can help them feel like they are part of each other’s day-to-day lives, even when they are separated. Social media has also become a hub for mental health professionals and relationship experts like me, providing support and education that can motivate people and couples to seek help.
Social media can become a threat to your romantic relationship when its meaning and boundaries are not clearly defined and agreed upon. As well as, when couples fall into a comparison trap.
Life is full of symbols that have different meanings depending on the lived experiences, the family of origin and the culture. It’s important to discuss with your partner what social media symbolizes and what it means to both of you. Understanding what social media means to each of you can help you understand how your partner decides to participate online.
Boundaries have a bad reputation. To many, it sounds like a “bad word.” The truth is, boundaries allow you to love the other person in a way that you can feel. Digital boundaries appear in my work with couples all the time because we all live in a world that is more interconnected than ever.
Talk about expectations about the role social media will play in your relationship. Thinking that social media and real life are two different parallel spaces will only make you feel frustrated and disappointed.
Digital boundaries must be talked about from the beginning of the relationship. Please note the following:
- Are you updating the status of your relationship?
- How much do you share about your relationship on social media?
- Who are you following?
- What images do you like or leave comments?
- How do you browse direct messages?
- Do you share your login information with your partner?
- How much time do you spend on social media?
This could be the most challenging, even for couples who are self-aware and who communicate clearly about their engagement on social media. People can go further to create a perfect feed with the highlights of their relationship. The beautiful bouquet of lush flowers, the five-star weekly dinners, the romantic beach getaways they do every two weekends, the bespoke vintage ring, and the sincere poems that are written between them just because. That’s all you see. You don’t see criticism or defense. You don’t see them crying. You don’t see the harsh conversations and the vulnerability that accompanies them. You don’t see the behind the scenes. However, compare your good enough and imperfect relationship to a perfectly healed “Instagramable” relationship.
This is the recipe for perpetual disappointment because your reality will never live up to the highlights of another person’s relationship. Often, when you fall into the trap of comparison, your insecurities come to the surface. You may feel insecure about your partner’s engagement and this is triggered when you see couples getting engaged, moving in together or buying their first home. You may feel insecure because you want more quality time, and this is triggered when you see other couples doing regular nights and couple-only vacations. Regardless of your insecurities, don’t allow social media to fuel discussions between you and your partner. Your relationship is no less real because it doesn’t live up to the social media standards of the perfect relationship.
- Prioritize quality time without social media
- Check with your partner before posting about her or your relationship
- Don’t look at your partner’s social media
- If you don’t do it in person, don’t do it online
- Tone and intention are harder to measure online, so give your partner the benefit of the doubt
- You have ongoing conversations about social media and your relationship
Despite how digital life is, it’s easy to feel uncomfortable talking about the impact social media has on relationships. Social media seems too trivial to argue. However, it provokes real feelings, and these count.
Tackling the limits of social media should not be a colossal challenge. Be willing to have honest, open conversations with your partner in order to understand each other better. Also, work together to set boundaries that lead to emotional and engagement security within the relationship.
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