Did you know that 20 percent of divorces involve Facebook? As a Facebook user myself, I was not surprised by this statistic. Facebook’s convenient social engagement – sometimes couched in the privacy of a message inbox – is an excellent way to stay in contact with old friends. But this convenience is also why Facebook can be dangerous for marriage. Brenda and I have a continual conversation on this topic. Social media is largely harmless, but if not approached with discretion it leads many down a path of emotional (and even physical) infidelity. We are not blind to this potential – and you shouldn’t be either.
Social media may not always be used in positive ways. Understanding the pitfalls can help you be aware of the potential dangers of social media on today’s relationships. Darren Adamson, PhD, LMFT, Chair of the Department of Marriage and Family Sciences at Northeastern University, lays out three potential dangers facing couples:
1.Social media serves as a distraction from focusing on the interactions that nurture relationships. “Social media use can become compulsive,” explains Adamson, “making it difficult to manage the amount of time spent on it.” In one study, American college students describe abstaining from social media the same way they describe drug and alcohol withdrawal—cravings, anxiety, feeling jittery.
2. People share their best lives on social media, so couples sometimes compare their mundane lives with other’s exciting lives, which can create destructive comparisons. “This can lead to discouragement with one’s primary relationship,” says Adamson. That discouragement can lead to conflict, fear, unrealistic expectations—why can’t you be like the partner portrayed in the social media posts? —or an overall discontentment with the relationship.
3. There is the potential for another relationship that looks so much better than the primary relationship. This can lead to extra-couple relationships that ultimately can destroy your marriage.
Guidelines for Maintaining a Healthy Balance Between Social Media and Relationships
As evidenced by couples who do use social media to their advantage, it is possible to have healthy relationships and be actively involved in social media. In fact, a 2013 study in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that people who share information about their relationship on Facebook were comfortable in their relationship. However, that setting guidelines on how to effectively use social media can mean the difference between a healthy use of social media in a relationship and taking it into the danger zone.
1.Don’t use social media as a negative point of comparison for your relationship. If you feel compelled to make comparisons involving your relationship compare where your relationship is today with what it was like a year ago—or five or ten years ago for those in a long-term relationship. Let the results of the comparison prompt changes in behavior that can build your relationship.
2.Spend time nurturing your relationship. Do things that create closeness in your relationship and do them regularly without distraction. This means leaving the cell phone/tablet at home—out of sight and out of mind. The distraction factor is one of the biggest challenges with social media. According to a study by Scientific American, the presence of a cell phone/tablet can be detrimental to interpersonal relationships.
3. Do not maintain a separate social media life. Share your social media world with your husband or wife. Spouses should not just share passwords – they should keep no secrets on social media. All messages, groups, and statuses should be open to your spouse. Just as it would be unsafe to keep secrets with a “real life” friend of the opposite sex, it is equally dangerous to keep even the smallest secrets from your spouse online. This may seem extreme, but in the world of social media we cannot be too careful. The protection of a screen gives a false sense of security, privacy, and even intimacy. This is why Brenda and I have a continual conversation about our social media channels, updating one another on who messaged us, what we’ve said lately, and the news we’ve received.
Social media is a part of our modern society, but there are also dangers in social media if couples let it get out of control. One thing you must keep in mind that social media is exactly what the name implies—media. It is not a separate and distinct world. It does not sustain relationships, because it is based on virtual reality that, by its nature, is not able to support the activities required to make a relationship work. That is up to you as individuals, and it still requires old-fashioned hard work and time invested in your relationship to make it thrive!