Social media have taken the world by storm. Many people spend a large portion of their days tweeting, texting, and checking their Facebook accounts. Adolescents tend to spend even more time online than adults, with a recent study suggesting that many engage in social networking for over two hours per day. Does that seem low or high to you? What about your partner?
Given how accessible and widely used social media are—Facebook alone has 1.8 billion active users—many people check in to find out what’s new, update others, and try to feel more connected with their world. Sharing a blow-by-blow of one’s day on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat has become routine. Whether you are at work, school, shopping, traveling, or just walking down the street, people can be seen everywhere hunched over their phones, getting updates about people they may or may not even be close to.
Unfortunately, this can lead to unrealistic ideas of what others’ lives are like, as well as unrealistic expectations for ourselves and our relationships. Many people tend to post only pictures and messages when they are among friends, doing something compelling or exceptional, or otherwise having fun. Because people tend to avoid posting about the negative things that may be going on in their lives, the photos and events they do post may embellish or inaccurately reflect their true status or emotional state. Looking in from the outside, “friends” who are coupled may think such people have ideal lives or relationships, when the opposite may be closer to the truth.
Many couples I work with in counseling talk about the ways social media have become problematic in their lives. It is not uncommon, for example, for one individual to be upset that a partner spends so much time online, which may interfere with time spent together. Another may become jealous if a partner befriends or follows a certain individual online. Others may feel as though their lives are depressing or “less than” compared with the online accounts and posts of friends or couples who appear to have it all.
If you feel as if social media have been causing problems in your relationship, the following are steps you can take to try to reconnect with your partner:
Because people tend to avoid posting about the negative things that may be going on in their lives, the photos and events they do post may embellish or inaccurately reflect their true status or emotional state.
- Set limits on the time you spend on social media. Try to cut back on the amount of time you spend online in general, especially when you have an opportunity to connect in person with your significant other. Make an agreement to spend more quality time together in the evening. This could mean leaving your phone in another room while you’re having dinner or watching a movie together, or you might decide to disconnect as of a certain time each evening.
- Put your phone away when out on a date. Too often, couples will set aside valuable “us” time to go out on a date, then spend part of it on their phones rather than talking to one another. When you go out, keep your phone in your pocket or purse, and only answer calls that are important (from the babysitter, for example).
- Close your Facebook account. This might sound blasphemous, but hear me out. For some couples, arguing about who befriends whom can become a serious problem and lead to jealousy and trust issues. If this is the case for you and/or your partner, you might want to consider closing or suspending your account, at least for a while, to avoid ongoing issues and drama. Spending time online communicating with other people—especially former romantic interests or others who may inspire difficult feelings in your partner—may not be the best solution to deepen your bond with your significant other. Saying your partner comes first is one thing, but showing it is even more important.
- Keep things in perspective, and avoid comparisons. Keep in mind what you read about online may not accurately portray what is going on in the lives of others. Relationships are always more complex than a few pictures or posts can possibly convey. What’s going on out of public view tends to be very different from the impression you may get from reading someone’s social media feed.
If social media have been causing problems in your relationship, try implementing some of the suggestions above. By setting and honoring some boundaries and making more of an effort to connect in person, you can work on reestablishing a healthier dynamic and deepening your bond. If, despite your efforts, you are still struggling, you may want to contact a couples counselor to help you to resolve your issues and get back on track.
Hajirnis, A. (2015, November 15). Social media networking: Parent guidance required. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 31(12): 1–7. doi:10.1002/cbl.30086.
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