The Internet is part of many romantic relationships, according to Mudita Rastogi, Ph.D, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Arlington Heights, Ill.
Many couples meet and court online. Many people turn to Google or Facebook to learn more about their dates. Many couples “also keep tabs on their partners, their exes, and sometimes their partner’s exes via social networking sites.”
But while social media affects relationships, some couples don’t even talk about it. That’s what Cynthia Rangel, MA, LPC, found in her doctoral research at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology.
Findings revealed that the more jealous people felt over their partner’s Facebook use, the less satisfied they felt about their relationships — and the more they monitored that use.
Yet these individuals still didn’t discuss it. They didn’t talk about how this affected their relationship or what they could do about it.
Stopping Facebook from Screwing Up Your Relationship
How does social media shape your relationship? Here are several tips on navigating social media sites like Facebook so it doesn’t hamper your relationship, and even deepens your connection.
1. Don’t let social media substitute face-to-face communication.
“Sometimes couples use Facebook as a substitute for directly asking their partner what they did, who they socialized with, or who are their good friends,” Rastogi said.
They may think they can’t talk about Facebook, because it’s private and their partner’s territory, Rangel said. But it’s this secrecy that can trigger anxiety, she said.
The best approach is to have a direct conversation, which deepens your relationship, Rastogi said. Similarly, don’t let social media become a substitute for talking through conflict or serious topics with your partner, Rangel said.
2. Rethink what you post.
When it comes to social media, people make the mistake of behaving impulsively, Rastogi said. If you’re not sure whether you should post something, she suggested asking yourself if you’d say it to that person’s face and in front of your partner. If not, don’t post it.
Remember that posting photos or comments about yourself or others is like “saying it out loud in the town square.”
3. Consider how your behavior reflects your relationship.
If you’re spending a lot of time tracking your partner’s behavior online, consider what this means about your relationship, Rastogi said. “Is this pattern helping your relationship? And do you want to change this dynamic?”
4. Create rules.
Rastogi suggested that couples in committed relationships talk about what they can post and who they can and can’t “friend.” For instance, are exes off limits? Should pictures of you with your previous partner stay up?
Talk about how you’d like to portray your relationship online to prevent any misunderstandings and conflicts, she said. For instance, what’s your relationship status (“single,” “in a relationship” or “it’s complicated” on Facebook)? Will you be posting couple pictures and including your partner in your updates?
In Rangel’s survey, when couples did set rules, the most common rule was about communication limits. Couples were specific about whose pages to post on, who to become friends with and what they could discuss about their relationship.
Rangel suggested each partner create a list of expectations for themselves and their partner. Then you can share your lists and come to a compromise. This gives you a concrete and visual point of reference, she said.
5. Don’t let time online trump your relationship.
“Your FB activity should not have priority over spending quality time with your spouse,” Rastogi said. She suggested couples make a pact to talk about their time online if it interferes with their relationship.
For many couples social media is part of their lives and their relationships. Being honest about your use, communicating directly and creating rules you both agree on can go a long way in preventing conflict and even deepening your relationship.