What Your Social Media Habits Reveal About Your Relationship

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How Social Media Affects Your Relationship
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Should you think twice before posting that anniversary tribute on Facebook?

By Elizabeth Laura Nelson

I got married long before the advent of Facebook.

When I joined, I didn’t think twice about linking my profile with my husband’s, each of us claiming the other as spouse – but if we hadn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered to me. Being “Facebook official” didn’t mean much back then. We shared a home and a last name, and we had two children; how much more official did our relationship need to be?


RELATED: The Best Sign Of A Healthy Relationship Is No Sign Of It On Facebook


Back then, I didn’t care whether my husband posted pictures of us, wrote a loving tribute to me on my birthday, or noted our anniversary on his Facebook page. And that was a good thing, because he never did. In truth, I would have been worried if he had; it would have been so deeply out of character for him, I’d have wondered what was up.

When we got divorced, I took a long break from Facebook. I didn’t just put my account on hold or stop posting for a while; I deleted the entire thing. The thought of changing my relationship status was too awful – even though I’d initiated the split – and the photo albums I’d created, full of happy family times, were a painful reminder of what had come to an end. I couldn’t face it; didn’t know what to say.

By the time I jumped back into the dating pool – and created a brand new Facebook profile, under my new (old) name – things had changed. Now, couples’ entire relationships often play out on social media, complete with anniversary shout-outs, cutesy hashtags, flirty messages, playful squabbles, even serious fights and breakups posted for all their friends and followers to see. And I have to admit, I’ve bought into it.

When my boyfriend, an inveterate Facebook-hater who reluctantly maintains an account, didn’t send me a friend request as soon as we started dating, I refused to send him one either, resulting in a year-long social media standoff. Offline, we were madly in love and spending all our free time together; online, we weren’t even friends. It was an ongoing sore point for us. Even after he finally friended me, and then went a step further, declaring us “in a relationship,” that delay rankled.

I’ve long subscribed to the theory that the more a couple gushes about their relationship on social media, the unhappier they must be in real life.


RELATED: Why Happy Couples Don't Blast Relationship Updates On Facebook


But is this really true?

Maybe I’m just bitter because my boyfriend has never posted a status update about how wonderful I am, or shared one of my stories, or made me his “Woman Crush Wednesday” on Instagram. (Although, I’m pretty certain he’s never heard of Woman Crush Wednesday – and he doesn’t even have an Instagram account.)

But if he did, would it matter? Can you really have any idea what a couple’s relationship is like behind closed doors, just from scrolling the public posts on their social media feeds?

The double-edged sword of social media and relationships

A study published in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking concluded that people who regularly use Facebook (more than once-per-day) are more likely to have social media-related conflicts with their partners. And these conflicts were serious – they were correlated with infidelity, breakups, and even divorce. 

Russell Clayton, the study’s lead author and a University of Missouri doctoral candidate at the time, said the more frequently people use Facebook, the more likely they are to monitor their partner’s social media activity. This “can lead to feelings of jealousy,” explained Clayton, as well as increasing the likelihood of connecting with old flames on social media, “which may lead to emotional and physical cheating.”

Another study, however, found that making your profile picture a shot of you and your partner, or sharing the latest sweet thing he did for you, can make you feel better about your relationship. The study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that posting positive things about your partner on social media is actually healthy. “It shows that you aren’t on Facebook ignoring your partner – you’re including them,” says dating coach Christie Hartman, Ph.D.

But wait. Yet another study, this one by researchers at Albright College, showed that while couples who were happy in their relationships were more likely to share lovey-dovey photos and status updates on social media, it also made them more likely to rely on their relationship to feed their sense of self-worth. The study’s authors dubbed this “relationship-contingent self-esteem,” and found that people with more neurotic personalities (for example, the people-pleasers and the codependents) were more likely to brag about their partner on social media – and to closely monitor their partner’s online activity.


RELATED: Facebook Doesn't Ruin Relationships. People Do.


How to have healthy relationship with social media

The bottom line? Social media actually can reflect how happy couples are in their relationship, but it can also affect how happy they are – and it’s got plenty of pitfalls. Especially for couples in the early stages of their relationships, social media can be dangerous. The University of Missouri study, which correlated frequent Facebook use with higher instances of cheating and breaking up, found that this was true only for couples who’d been together three years or less. In other words, once you’ve been together for a number of years, your relationship is less likely to be rocked by posting – or not posting – something about your partner on your Facebook feed.

Relationship expert Dr. Wendy Walsh suggests not making your relationship “Facebook official” until you’re truly committed to each other, and have had a conversation about it. That means not sharing pictures of the two of you, or posting about each other until you’re officially a couple in real life.

“When a relationship is in its fragile dating stage, it’s very important to have privacy. Intimacy needs privacy to grow,” she explains.

Another way to steer clear of trouble online is to leave your exes alone. Unfollow, unfriend, or block them – whatever you have to do to ensure that you won’t run the risk of engaging with them instead of putting your attention where it ought to be: on your current partner. A friendship with an ex should never be as important as nurturing and protecting the relationship you’re in right now. If you find yourself mindlessly stalking your exes’ profiles, ask yourself why– and step away from the screen.

Put your focus on your partner, whether that means composing a sweet post about how much he means to you, or – even better – telling him in person. Because regardless of the story your social media feeds tell about your relationship, you know the truth – and you’re the one who has to live with it.

RELATED: The Real Reason Facebook Causes One-Third Of Divorces

This article was originally published at SheSaid. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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