A restaurant in the U.K. recently announced it will be banning the use of mobile devices in their establishment on February 14 in an effort “to refocus diners on the food and experience”. This move has generated a bit of online buzz and has turned attention to how preoccupied society is becoming with the world-wide-web and more specifically, social media. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we recently asked, Dr. Tracy Dalgliesh C. Psych. “Can social media outlets have an impact on our romantic relationships? What are some positive ways to use them (or not) on Valentine’s Day?“.
Here’s her response:
Social media becomes problematic when we use it to turn away from our partner, resulting in decreased connection and communication. Instead of working through an argument and engaging in a difficult conversation, you turn to scrolling through social media. This is an avoidance strategy, and we know from couples research that shutting down (i.e., stonewalling) is a type of communication that can result in long-term couple distress.2 (For more on the four communication styles that predict the dissolution of a relationship, see https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/. Recent research suggests that excessive use of devices leads to lower relationship satisfaction.1 This is even truer for partners with anxious attachment (i.e., they fear that they are unlovable or unworthy). Other examples may include messaging friends over talking to your partner, checking your phone in the middle of a conversation with your partner, or sharing fun and exciting information with others online and not your lover.
Individuals fall into the trap of the comparing themselves and their relationships to what they see on social media. Profiles often portray the happiest moments – and these are often posed images. They do not display the challenges that couples all face. Frequently seeing these stylized and selected images can impact how you view your own relationship. Thoughts of “why aren’t we that happy?” or “we never do anything exciting” may arise and create negative feelings towards your relationship and partner. This negative filter may then lead to thoughts of “I could be happier with someone else,” further contributing to dissatisfaction.
Social media can also impact one’s feelings of jealousy and insecurity. All of the platforms for social media offer easy ways to connect with others privately. This becomes a problem when it is done in secret, or when connecting with someone else feels good and you are putting more energy into that connection than with your partner. A negative feedback loop can also start, where jealousy leads to snooping, which further exacerbates feelings of jealousy. In some situations, social media can lead to infidelity.
While social media can present with its challenges for couples, I do believe that it can be used in a healthy manner – where couples can build and enhance their connection. Here are some tips on how to use social media this Valentine’s Day to enhance your relationship:
- Set limits on the time that you are on your devices. Agree to put the phones on silent in another room (e.g., from 7pm-9pm) on Valentine’s Day (and maybe every day!).
- Send a message letting your partner know you are thinking of them or excited to see them at the end of the day. We long to know that we matter to the ones we love, so let your partner in on your feelings.
- Send a good morning or good night love meme.
- Share a memory or article with your partner that you found on your social media outlet and use it to get to know the other person’s opinions and desires.
- If scrolling and connecting is part of your time together, take a break and talk about what you each found interesting. Ask open-ended questions, like “What did you find most surprising to read today?” or “What emotions did you feel while seeing X.”
1. James A. Roberts, J. A., & David, M. E. (2016). My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 134-141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.07.058.
2. Gottman, J. M., & Krokoff, L. J. (1989). Marital interaction and satisfaction: A longitudinal view. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 47-52.
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