In 2019, the average person spent 144 minutes per day on social media (Clement, 2020). According to Media Dependency Theory, the higher dependence a person has on media the stronger the influence of media on the individual’s perceptions and behaviors (Joo & Teng, 2017, p. 36). A study conducted in 2018 by Brigham Young University found that extensive social media usage is linked with decreased emotional wellness and lower satisfaction in interpersonal relationships (Christensen, 2018). In other words, if you think your relationship is being negatively impacted by social media, you are not being “dramatic,” it actually is.
It’s important not to downplay or dismiss the role social media plays in relationships. Acknowledging and talking about it can actually help strengthen your bond.
Let’s highlight the positives first. A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 55% of Gen Z feel supported through social media. Social media allows people to connect to family and friends who might be on the other side of the world. You can connect with people who have similar interests who you might never meet otherwise. 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 life, even when apart. Social media has also become a hub for mental health professionals and relationship experts like myself—making support and education that can motivate individuals and couples to seek help.
Social Media can become a threat to your romantic relationship when 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 hold different meanings depending on lived experiences, family of origin, and culture. It’s important that you discuss with your partner what social media symbolizes and what meaning it holds for the two of you. Understanding what social media represents for each of you, might help you understand how your partner chooses to engage online.
Boundaries get a bad reputation. For many, it feels like a “bad word.” The truth is that boundaries allow you to love the other person in a way they can feel. Digital boundaries come up 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 lead you to feel frustrated and disappointed.
Digital boundaries need to be discussed from the start of the relationship. Consider the following:
- Do you update your relationship status?
- How much do you share about your relationship on social media?
- Who do you follow?
- What pictures do you like or leave comments on?
- How do you navigate direct messages?
- Do you share your login information with your partner?
- How much time is spent on social media?
This one might be the most challenging one, even for the couples who are self-aware and communicate clearly about their engagement on social media. People can go above and beyond to curate a perfect feed with the enhanced highlights of their relationship. The beautiful bouquet of lush flowers, the five-star weekly dinner dates, the romantic beachfront getaways they go on every other weekend, the vintage custom-made ring, and the heartfelt poems they write to each other just because. This is all you see. You don’t see the criticism or the defensiveness. You don’t see them crying. You don’t see the hard conversations and the vulnerability that accompanies those. You don’t see the behind-the-scenes. Yet, you compare your good enough and imperfect relationship to a perfectly curated “Instagramable” relationship.
This is the recipe for perpetual disappointment because your reality will never measure up to the highlights of someone else’s relationship. Oftentimes, when you fall into the comparison trap, your insecurities bubble up to the surface. Maybe you feel insecure about your partner’s commitment and this is triggered when you see couples getting engaged, moving in together, or buying their first home. Maybe you feel insecure because you crave more quality time and this is triggered when you see other couples going on regular date nights and couples-only vacations. Regardless of your insecurities, don’t allow social media to fuel arguments between you and your partner. Your relationship is not less real because it’s not up to par with the social media standards of the perfect relationship.
- Prioritize quality time without social media
- Check-in with your partner before you post about them or your relationship
- Don’t snoop through your partner’s social media
- If you wouldn’t do it in- person, then don’t do it online
- Tone and intent are harder to gauge online, so give your partner the benefit of doubt
- Have ongoing conversations about social media and your relationship
Despite how digitized life is, it’s easy to feel uncomfortable talking about the impact social media has on relationships. Social media seems too trivial to argue about. Yet, it brings up real feelings and those matter.
Addressing social media boundaries doesn’t have to be a colossal challenge. Be willing to have open and ongoing honest conversations with your partner with the goal of better understanding each other. Also, work together to establish boundaries that lead to emotional and commitment safety within the relationship.