Like everything else, the subject of social media and relationships has polarized public opinion. There are enough documentaries, research, and self-proclaimed lifestyle gurus that persecute the usage of networking apps. Ironically, much of this persecution is carried out on the same apps. At this point, it’s logical to accept that social media is here to stay. But the critics are not completely wrong.
Earlier, whenever my husband and I had an argument, respite came easily through Instagram. It felt easier to connect with followers than try to connect with each other. Days would pass without talking. Eventually, our marriage became a shell of a relationship.
Ours is not an isolated story. That’s why I talked to Utkarsh Khurana, relationship and intimacy coach, about the crossroads of social media and relationships. And he gave me some insightful advice. So, what does he say?
How Does Social Media Affect Relationships?
Owing to the increase in the addiction to sites like Instagram or YouTube, especially in the post-Covid world where people are highly dependent on such platforms to form and manage relations, the impact of social media on relationships is inevitable.
Utkarsh says, “The collaboration of social media and relationships can be harmful or beneficial depending on the intention for which it is used. The advantages and disadvantages of social media in relationships depend to a great extent on the people in those relationships.”
Research provided empirical evidence on how social networking sites affect relationships. Some of these are:
- Widened dating pool due to higher availability of potential dates
- Rating a relationship based on how one displays it on Facebook or Instagram
- Increased communication with your partner but ironically, decreased quality time with each other
- Increased scrutiny of partners and relationship dissatisfaction
But how social media affects your relationship doesn’t always have to be negative.
The Positive Effects Of Social Media On Relationships
While thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of social media in relationships, one is more likely to think about the disadvantages. But one can observe the positive impact of social media on relationships when it is used in moderation. Utkarsh says, “If these sites are helping you live a good life – a life that is pleasant, engaging, and meaningful that is leading toward flourishment – then it’s good for you.” So, here are the ways in which social media can help you:
1. It helps create connections
Social networking apps help in creating connections across not just physical boundaries, but social and mental as well. It is a boon for people in long-distance relationships and friendships who want to maintain a connection with their loved ones. It also helps people who are not comfortable meeting multiple people at the same time. Social media has also enabled many marginalized groups, through LGBTQ dating apps and such, to find love and friendships and express themselves in a safe space.
2. It helps express mutual affection
Often, it is not easy to express your affection. You might be introverted or you simply don’t get enough time to meet or talk to your partner. Social media and relationships elevate each other by enabling an expression of those feelings. Dr. Marti Olsen Laney in her book, The Introvert Advantage, discusses that introverts favor writing to their loved ones over talking.
This is possibly why I like to argue with my husband on Whatsapp than on a call. It gives me time to introspect and avoid impulsive outbursts. Utkarsh says, “Messaging platforms can also act as an icebreaker during conflicts in relationships. I’ve often used Snapchat or Instagram stories to make it up to my partner. As long as it is working for you, it can be a good thing.”
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3. Social media helps in sexual gratification
Research has suggested that the use of online pornography aids sexual gratification in romantic relationships. Utkarsh says, “When consumed in moderation, there can be a healthy confluence between relationships and porn. It would be preposterous to expect your partner to fulfill your every need. But if you are overusing it and ignoring your partner’s desires, then it will affect your relationship negatively.”
4. It helps in improving communication
Social media can help in bridging the gap between people with cultural or age differences. It becomes easier for parents to find openings to talk to their children by engaging in sites used by them. This is because it can help parents garner the perspective necessary to connect with their children as suggested by a study.
5. Positive impact of social media on relationships – It betters our understanding of boundaries and mental health
It’s not uncommon to see Instagram reels on gaslighting, generational trauma, or consent now. It’s easier to talk about things that were taboo earlier. It provides a platform for people to share their insights on world events, toxicity in cultures, and personal boundaries – things that impact and shape relationships. It is a major reason that Gen Z is more expressive and accepting about social media and relationships as compared to the previous generations.
The Negative Effects Of Social Media On Relationships
Why is social media causing tension if it can help connect people across distances? Because too much of a good thing can turn bad eventually. The advantages and disadvantages of social media on relationships depend on your frequency of engagement with the online world. If you’re addicted, here’s how it can damage your relationships:
1. Overuse of social media can reduce intimacy
Research suggests that addiction to sites like Instagram or Snapchat could create a behavior that reduces offline interaction. According to a study, social media addiction can lead to psychological distress, affecting relationship quality. This makes a couple appear more intimate online than they are in reality.
Utkarsh says, “Social media can be especially harmful when it becomes a distractor or an avoidance tool from having a meaningful conversation.” Research has also indicated a rise in phubbing, i.e., snubbing someone through the use of your phone. Phubbing can ruin your relationship by creating trust issues between the couple.
2. It creates retroactive jealousy in relationships
Utkarsh says, “Jealousy is normal in relationships. Besides, these platforms don’t promote jealousy. But when you start attaching your insecurities to them, it can take a monstrous form.” This is how: When someone feels jealous because of their partner’s dating history, it’s called retroactive jealousy.
Research suggests that retroactive jealousy has become common due to social networking sites. The constant looming presence of your partner’s ex(es), uncertainty in social media and relationships, and easy access to surveillance, can increase insecurity in relationships.
3. Addiction to social media creates disagreements about privacy
It’s normal for two people to have a disagreement about what to post on Instagram. But according to research, failing to find a balance between how much to post and how much to keep private can reduce the effectiveness of a relationship. A study also suggests that social media enables easy surveillance of a subject without them knowing. Though privacy settings can be controlled, many users do not realize how much of their data is accessible. This data can be misused by people to control their partners.
4. It creates unrealistic expectations
Factors like FOMO and social anxiety are commonly observed with high social media usage. Couples often end up making social media mistakes such as posting photos to appear as the most happening couple. Utkarsh says, “Expressing love online can improve your relationship quality, but this is highly subjective. The external validation you get after posting about your relationship may help sometimes, but a dependence on it may backfire. Remember, an online expression of love is temporary. The main thing here is that your expression of love should not be for the benefit of your followers, but for your partner.”
5. It inhibits the formation of new and genuine connections
Researchers have observed a behavior in social media users where their online and offline relationships often spill into each other. This phenomenon, termed ‘syntopia’, has shown that highly compulsive users show a decreased quality in their offline relationships, as well as trouble initiating new relationships offline.
6. Addiction to social media can act as a catalyst for infidelity
It is important to note that social media is not a common reason people cheat in relationships. It is only a catalyst for this behavior. Research suggests little dependence on infidelity-related behavior on such sites. If someone is cheating on their partner, it’s due to the problems within a relationship and not because of a DM. But this research also concludes that someone who is not happy in their relationship is likely to engage more on such platforms.
5 Tips To Find The Balance Between Social Media And Relationships
But why is social media causing tension in relationships? Because of an imbalance between offline and online engagement. Utkarsh says, “Balance is a subjective concept since every person has their own experiences, expectations, and priorities. Hence it will be simplistic to suggest that they should divide their time equally between offline and online relationships. Try to create a balance according to your needs by making sure:
- Your life is full of positive emotions
- Your offline relationships are engaging
- Your relationships have a purpose and value system
- Your relationships make you feel loved and valued by others
- Your sense of success comes from working for and achieving goals, instead of external validation
If you’re able to experience these parameters while using social media, then you’ve achieved that balance.” Here are 5 strategies that you can use to incorporate these parameters in your life:
1. Define boundaries
You must define boundaries for these platforms after assessing the advantages and disadvantages of social media on relationships. Some of the things you can do are:
- A major must-follow healthy relationship boundary could be defining what’s private and what can be shared
- Communicate to your partner if you’re uncomfortable with them being friends with their ex on Instagram
- Talk to them if you feel the need to check their activities
- Try to find out the reason for your insecurities and arrive at a common goal to accommodate each other’s needs
2. Keep online and offline worlds separate
You can’t always keep social media and relationships separate, so try to separate your online and offline life. Here’s how you can do that:
- Keep your phones away from your meals
- If you’re going on a trip, try to avoid the urge to put up stories of everything
- If you like or share your loved ones’ posts online, engage with them and tell them what you liked about it
- Try not to bring your phone to bed
These things could be difficult to do if social media is part of your profession, but you need to make some time exclusively for your offline relationships.
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3. Be aware of the fakeness of aesthetics
Most of what you see online is constructed after careful planning and posted after multiple trials. But the perfection of it can often make people question the randomness in their lives. Research suggests that people tend to show a better version of their relationships on social media. This makes people question their current relationship when they see their partner’s previous relationships online. Try not to judge the book by its cover. It will only trigger jealousy in your relationships. Talk to your partner to get to the reality of the situation instead of assuming things.
4. Do not forget your targets in the relationship
We engage in a relationship to feel loved and become a better version of ourselves. According to a study, relationship quality increases with reciprocity in relationships. This means that when you share your goals and show mutual support for those goals with your partner, relationship satisfaction improves. So it’s important to nurture a relationship where becoming a better version of yourself is a priority than merely showing it on an online platform.
5. Try to do a social media detox
Go on a weekend trip and lock your phones in the hotel safe. Sounds terrifying, but once the anxiety of not having to scroll anything leaves your body, you’ll find it easier to listen to yourself and each other. If a weekend sounds daunting, then try a few hours. Try to reduce the urge to constantly check stories, reels, or shorts. If self-control is difficult, then you could try apps like Offtime and Freedom which block social media for some time.
- Since the reliance on social media is increasing post-Covid, its impact is bound to increase as well
- This impact can be beneficial or harmful, depending on the intensity and frequency of its usage, as well as your existing relationship quality
- Social media can help in connecting across physical and intellectual differences, and building easier communication lines
- It has been found to be harmful in cases where people use it too frequently as well as in cases where they are insecure
- It’s important to keep online and offline lives separate and not forget the importance of offline experiences
Someone accurately said that nothing in the world is free. And when you get something for free, then you’re the product. Social media was created to bring the world to your palms, but lately, it appears that people have become puppets in the hands of algorithms. Social media and relationships don’t have to be mutually exclusive. At Bonobology, we have an extensive panel of therapists and psychologists that can help you if you’re having relationship woes because of social media addiction. So do not be a product in the hands of a computer code.