In a new relationship, you may not think anything is problematic about texting regularly throughout the day, posting pictures on Instagram, or changing your Facebook status to reflect your newest love interest. Social media provides a quick way to let your friends and family members know what is going on with you. It is quick, easy, and allows information to be shared with relative ease rather than having to call each person on your “friend list” separately repeating the same stories. Being a vehicle of feeling closer to others without being physically with them has a lot of perks, but there is also the potential for relationship problems with social media if not attended to carefully.
In order to reduce relationship problems with social media, it is recommended that you have an honest conversation about each of your involvement with social media, so that your partner still feels like they are your primary partner, as opposed to any misperception about loyalties to others, and that you are putting their relationship needs first. If you are in a relationship with someone you care about, the last thing you want is for your partner to feel uneasy about your social media behaviors.
Common Relationship Problems with Social Media
First, discussing the amount of time spent and when to participate in viewing screens independently is a good starting topic of discussion to help you avoid relationship problems with social media. For example, you can set an agreement with your partner about times (such as during a meal or going out with each other socially) that each of you would abstain from electronically connecting with others. This will help each of you be more “present” with one another at the same time rather than having either of your attention be needlessly fragmented.
Second, you can prevent relationship problems with social media by talking with your partner about the content of what you post, especially with personal material (pictures, stories, experiences) that involve your partner. It is also important to consider the desired persona that your partner may want to maintain in the context of social media. For example, asking them if they want to maintain a sense of discretion or how open they want to be with their sexual or gender identity throughout their page will assist you in how transparent your partner wants to be in the social media community. As you know, once information gets shared online, it is challenging to take it back and you do not know who else will see it or share it. For example, let’s suppose your partner gets a promotion at work and you post about it. However, your partner may have wanted to tell others personally themselves before reading it online. In your mind, the intention behind it may be to share about this joyful experience, but that may have not been your partner’s expected way of sharing this information. This could potentially result in your partner feeling hurt because their “good news” was already revealed by you or others. Although circumstances like this may be hard to avoid, some of these problems may be prevented when you and your partner discuss the content about what you put out for anyone to see. Another example about content includes the types of pictures shared knowing who can have access to see them, whether it be just family and friends or actual work colleagues. It is also important to acknowledge the content that can be put on more subtle forms of social media too such as group conversations of WhatsApp or even through direct messaging portals on Facebook or Instagram.
Third, having an understanding about who you connect with online is another topic worthy of discussion to reduce relationship problems with social media. For example, is it okay that your ex-partners are still listed as “friends” on your accounts? If so, what are the boundaries you are willing to adhere to, and want your current partner to abide by, so that any potential discomfort can be eliminated? It may be helpful to discuss with your partner, in advance, how you would handle certain followers or posts that make the other person uncomfortable before it ends up in an argument because of a misunderstanding. When it comes to social media, following the motto that your business is our business on topics that involve both of you even if it is mentioned on only one of your accounts or boards is recommended.
The fourth and final tip on reducing problems with social media is to be as transparent as possible. Countless numbers of arguments and relationship stresses occur because a partner discovered content on your social media accounts, or text messages, that were not known to them. Typed words and narratives on a screen can easily be misinterpreted in its tone and intention. To that end, by being open with your partner about any “hot button” topics online (with anyone) can not only avert disagreements later on, but also eliminate the notion that you are hiding them from your partner should they discover it later on. The best course of action is to write or post information that you would not mind your partner ever finding out about. If there is any doubt about this, then you may want to reconsider making that information known to others. Another form of transparency includes giving unrestricted permission for your partner to view your accounts and have access to all your passwords. This is especially useful in trying to rebuild trust after a breach such as infidelity or an addiction. The above-mentioned tips can come together in the below exercise.
A Social Media Agreement
Because words are easy to forget and intentions frequently misunderstood, it is recommended for you and your partner to develop a Social Media Agreement. At a time when the two of you are available, preferably before a potential argument about social media, each of you take out a sheet of paper and write down what your preferences are regarding the potential relationship problems with social media (i.e. time, content, who you would not want your partner to connect with, and levels of transparency). Put a line down the middle and on one side write down what you feel is preferable to you and the other side, what you would like your partner to agree to. Both of you can then negotiate an agreement that each of you will agree to on a third piece of paper which will be the Social Media Agreement. It can look something like this:
Times not to spend on social media and times when it is okay:
Times not to use social media which would be considered “couple time:”
1. Not during mealtimes when we are both together
2. Not at times when personal discussions are occurring (either at home, away, or in a vehicle)
3. Not to use social media when we are out doing a quality activity together, such as visiting a friend or relative.
Times it is okay to use social media which would be considered “individual time:”:
1. When we are by ourselves in the house or if one of us is busy doing something else that is not supposed to be together.
2. When we are in the car driving somewhere (as the passenger) and if there is not a personal discussion between the two of us going on.
Both you and your partner can develop a list like this for each of the potential problematic areas, outlining what you collectively agree is okay and not okay. It is recommended that each of you sign it at the end and make your own copy. By having guidelines like this spelled out, it reduces the chance for any misunderstandings or hurt feelings. It also reinforces a feeling of trust and intimacy between the two of you which will go a long way in preventing relationship problems with social media.
If you would like to work through relationship problems like these, or any other issue, please call The Center for Growth at 215-922-LOVE or visit our website at www.therapyinphiladelphia.com/contact to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists at our Society Hill or Art Museum location.