Overcoming the Negative Effects of Social Media on Relationships 

By Kimberly Meere, LCSW

Social media has influenced just about everything in our lives.  Business, politics, and even our relationships.

Whether you scroll and post regularly or just peek and comment on occasion, you have an online identity. 

It can be challenging to manage our individual online presence properly, yet we are responsible for what we share and how we engage online.

Social media can be a great tool for keeping in touch with people and maintaining a sense of connectedness. However, it can also be especially harmful to our relationships.  

GoodTherapy | Social Media Problems

 Social Media Comparisons Can Destroy Your Relationships

The human brain is wired to think negatively. This can quickly wreak havoc on our relationships. We expect to have problems, but we quickly question when things are undefined or going relatively well.

We seek answers, predictability, and pleasure to avoid pain. We yearn to be accepted, liked, and supported.

Social media provides us with our dopamine fix when we see or post what we like especially when it comes to relationships.

We tend to compare our relationships to others and comparisons can be a social media relationship killer.

A survey conducted in the fall of 2019 by the Pew Research Center, found that 8 in 10 adults notice relationship oriented posts and women are 7% more likely than men to see them.

Age factors in as well. Women under 50 are more likely to notice and be affected by the relationship posts they see as compared to women over 50. 

Can You Relate? 

Megan 29, and Mike 30, were dating for over 2 years and were considering marriage.  They lived together, had a dog and wanted kids.  Megan wanted to get married right away and was concerned about her biological clock.

Mike was not ready to get married and wanted to ‘get his affairs in order’ before the big step. 

Soon Megan started noticing posts of engagements, weddings and births on social media and began resenting Mike.  She would compare her life to everyone else’s and somehow she always came up short. 

Many of us compare our lives to what appears to be a better one from what we can see on social media.  Comparing is a potential relationship killer.

Everyone seems to have a happy life on social media.  It looks like they have the perfect relationship, motivated kids, and a great job.  Pa-leease! You can’t go by a picture of them at the beach… on vacation…  3 years and 25 pounds ago!

Keep in mind, people post what they want you to see.  Some people are excellent at painting an enhanced picture of the high points of their relationship.  The extravagant vacations, the romantic dinners, the custom ring, the lengthy heartfelt birthday/anniversary dedications. But what’s behind the curtain?

Perhaps a very different picture…  criticisms,  insecurities, inconsistencies, the list goes on.

Do yourself and your relationship a favor, avoid comparing. If your friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife posts daily pictures of them together and yours doesn’t it’s okay.  It doesn’t mean anything. Your relationship is not in trouble or any less special. Be mindful not to jump to conclusions. Talk about the role of social media in your current relationships. 

GoodTherapy | Set Social Media Boundaries

 Establish Social Media Boundaries in Relationships

Establishing the role of social media in the relationship is vital to maintaining harmony and balance.

Setting boundaries and outlining rules of engagement is necessary to build trust both on and offline.

Consider drawing a road map for your partner as to what your concerns, expectations, and needs are as an opportunity for them to get to know you on a deeper, more intimate level and vice-versa. Ultimately, it’s growth. 

It’s important to communicate without pointing fingers and be open to compromise. 

This technique was helpful to Tammy and her boyfriend Paul. Tammy was concerned when she noticed Paul liked a picture his ex posted of herself and her new dog.

This is a classic example of what I refer to as Indiscriminate contact.  This is the act of “liking” a post or communicating with someone your partner would likely consider off limits.

Tammy began to question the relationship and Paul’s level of commitment. She wondered if he still had feelings for his ex. Paul insisted this was an innocent ‘like” and reassured Tammy she was the only one for him. 

Over the next several weeks, Tammy began monitoring Paul’s social media activity and his whereabouts. She also demanded he dissociate from all girls online and questioned him each day.

The suspicion and indiscriminate communication forged a wedge in their relationship and they fought regularly. In therapy they were able to explore the feelings that were triggered through some of their social media interactions (insecurity, low self-esteem, abandonment, commitment issues, trust) and they set clearly defined boundaries and rules of engagement.  Both would make a conscious effort to avoid indiscriminate contacts, overthinking, constant monitoring, and jumping to conclusions.  

 Is Social Media Showing Problems in Your Relationship?

 If your partner claims he went to sleep but his social media post begs to differ, it’s time to face the possibility that this is not the right relationship for you.

If you find yourself checking up on your significant other multiple times a day, you may want to tune in to what is driving this behavior. 

Status checking, or the act of checking your partner’s listed relationship status (single, single and looking, in a relationship, married etc.) can be a sign that it’s time to have a conversation about your actual relationship status.

Approximately half of social media users reported checking up on their current or former partners at some point. About 3 in 10 have felt jealous or uncertain based on their partner’s interactions on social media.

Some social media users have expressed concerns over the lack of posts or pictures representing the relationship on their partner’s social media page. For instance, it can be off putting when you realize that your partner of nine months maintains the “single and looking status” on their social media profile, along with 47 pictures of friends, 16 pictures of  food and only one picture with you buried under everything else because it was from last Christmas.  

GoodTherapy | Negative Social Media Interactions

Can Social Media Spark Infidelity? 

Social media has been known to provide us with a larger social network and opportunities. 

The constant opportunity for infidelity can be concerning for those in new or less secure relationships. 

Infidelity is often linked to low relationship satisfaction, relationship ambivalence, and other ongoing problems in the relationship. 

Fostering open lines of communication, understanding, and checking in with each other on a regular basis will lead to increased levels of satisfaction within the relationship and reduce the likelihood of infidelity both on and offline.  

 Decide How Much Social Media is Good For You

Social media can be a blessing or a curse when it comes to relationships. The good news is we have a say in the matter.

It’s important to have ongoing honest conversations with our partners about it. Establishing boundaries and rules of engagement is a crucial step to the growth of the relationship and successfully navigating the digital age we live in.

Comparisons are relationship poison and open lines of communication are the antidote. 

Trust must be built in relationships and it can be especially challenging when it comes to social media since the rules are often unclear. 

If you believe social media could be impacting your relationships, seek out a therapist. The GoodTherapy registry might be helpful to you. There are thousands of therapists listed who would like to help you on your journey. Find the support you need today.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Joshua

    May 26th, 2023 at 2:18 PM

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