The Impact Social Media Has On Intimate Partner Relationships

There is no doubt that the internet and social media has changed the ways we manage our lives, both personally and professionally.  It is also safe to say that social media has greatly influenced our relationships and has allowed us to connect with more people than we may otherwise would without it.  Social media is a convenient way to share information and offers immediate gratification, which can boost self-esteem and decrease feelings of loneliness.

However, social media also has its downsides and has been shown to be one of the main factors associated with conflict in relationships as well as is one of the leading causes of divorce.  So what aspects of social media contribute to this negative trend in our relationships? For one, individuals have a tendency to overestimate levels of intimacy on social media, which is often inaccurate for our real-life relationships.  As human beings, we crave in-person intimacy, which is required to nurture our long-term relationships. Therefore, online relationships cannot be a substitute for real-life, face-to-face connections. With the age of mobile devices, social media can be accessed on-demand whenever and wherever we are however this can lead to ignoring of the people in our physical presence.  The more time we spend on social media, the less time we have to be with and spend quality time with our intimate partners.  

Social media has also been found to be sources of temptation, drama, and jealousy in our relationships. Most of us only share details about our lives that are positive or attractive, which can lead us to compare ourselves and our partners to others.  This creates the perception that “the grass is always greener” and influences us to believe that we can find someone who is more attractive, successful, etc. than our partner.  Because social media allows us to connect with people we normally would not have the opportunity to meet in-person, it can make it easy to develop and maintain relationships that may be inappropriate for someone who is already in a committed intimate relationship. With this comes the potential of lying and infidelity, which are both catalysts to problems in our relationships.

So what can we do to avoid falling into the pitfalls of social media and instead find a balance with it so that we can nurture our real-life relationships? First and foremost, we can establish boundaries around our social media use.  This includes limiting the amount of time we spend online, especially when we are in the presence of others.  We can also increase our awareness of reasons we seek to connect with others online and be honest with ourselves about the purpose these connections have for us.  Lastly, we can continue to put in as much or more time and effort into growing and maintaining our in-person relationships.  

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT