A new study stating that social media may be responsible for increasing dissatisfaction in relationships is interesting. It's also one that I look at and think, "Duh, we needed a study to show this?" That's because it isn’t the use (or overuse) of Twitter per se, but the amount of time people spend on individual activities. There is also the secondary impact of sharing thoughts and feelings that rightly belong within the relationship.
There are at least two areas specific to social media that can make the use of it more detrimental to relationships. The first is the "addictive" pleasure response the brain has to novel information. Twitter feeds and Facebook postings support this with a constant stream of "new". The second is the fear that you will miss something. What many don't realize is that the thing they are missing is their own life. They cease to be present with the person they are actually with. Banksy's latest painting is a dead-on take on this new phenomenon.
This frequent or consistent distance puts pressure on the relationship, resulting in ongoing disagreements and, ultimately, the end of the relationship. While overuse of social media is not the only thing that can lead to this harmful distance, it is one that is immediately and constantly available. Our perpetually wired, 24/7, smartphone existence makes responding to this temptation so much harder to resist.
It is also possible that being in an unhappy relationship is the impetus for spending so much time on social media. Interacting in this alternative world can provide a supportive outlet for the stress of a poor relationship. Unfortunately, this sympathetic environment is fertile ground for infidelity. Your relationship is much more vulnerable to outside influences when one of you is unhappy.
That is why this study is not all that informative on its own. One singular behavior is rarely enough to jeopardize a relationship. What puts a relationship at risk is the way the two individuals approach that behavior, not the behavior itself. Yes, each of you will have feelings about it, as well as a desired outcome. What helps or hurts a relationship is whether the two of you can successfully reach an agreeable resolution — not whether you disagree in the first place.
Unfortunately, most of us don't have the communication and emotion management skills that allow us to reach that place of agreement. We state and restate our position without really listening to how our partners feel. We get more and more upset that nothing is changing without realizing our part in that outcome. Instead of inviting our partners back from cyberspace and into a conversation with us, we drop snarky remarks or outright attacks. I've heard from many people that they go on social media because their partner is busy doing something else. When that partner then wants to engage, the first one is engrossed elsewhere and the disconnect gets bigger.
Unfortunately, one of the real drawbacks to interacting in 140 characters is that the art of having a true conversation is lost. Sitting side by side or, better yet, face to face and really talking to each other is a way to deepen intimacy and create a better relationship. Doing this requires both of you to really be present, both physically and emotionally. Anything that keeps this from happening on a regular basis can be problematic.
Let me know if you have ever experienced these issues in your relationship and if you think these suggestions would be helpful. Lesli@balancedfamily.com
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