How Does Social Media Impact Relationships?

Can social media affect romantic relationships?
on July 05, 2023
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

Social media and relationships go hand in hand in the modern world. 

Many modern love stories owe themselves to the wonders of social media. Instead of finding each other in dance halls, soulmates can simply slide into your DM’s or be found lurking in your likes. 

Even if you didn’t meet your partner through social media, it’s likely gone on to play a big part in your dating life. Relationship milestones are documented through our social media use, from soft-launching to engagement announcements! 

“Despite what many people might say, social media has proven to be an incredibly valuable tool for a multitude of reasons,” says Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick, a psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor.

“It can create a sense of connection for so many by providing opportunities to make new friends, stay in contact with old friends, and have active and frequent interactions with a community of like-minded individuals. It can also be a great outlet to explore creativity and passions and engage in self-expression… And it can also be just fun!” 

With social media apps having such an influence on our everyday lives, what impact does it have on our romantic relationships? 

How does social media affect relationships? 

With screen time and scrolling forever on the rise, it’s important to consider how social media platforms can affect your real-life relationships. 

“Social media can have both positive and/or negative effects on a relationship depending on how it’s used and the boundaries that are set around it,” says Dr. Fedrick. 

Even though social media can have an impact on relationship satisfaction, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Social media sites can be a great way to connect with your loved ones — especially if you are apart or in a long-distance relationship. They are also a great way to show appreciation for your partner or to show them your thinking of them throughout the day. 

“It can be positive if it is used in a way to celebrate, praise, or express gratitude towards your partner, or even as a way to engage or flirt with your partner throughout the day,” says Dr. Fedrick. 

Despite these perks, social media interactions should not replace face-to-face contact with your significant other. Studies show that social media can have a negative impact on in-person communication, with this reliance making normal interactions more difficult. 

With such an active involvement in our everyday lives, it can be hard to step away from the allure of social media — creating distance from your romantic partner. 

“However, if it’s used excessively, as a way to make your partner jealous, to behave passive-aggressively when upset, or to get romantic attention or interactions from people outside of your committed relationship, this can certainly create an issue within a relationship,” says Dr. Fedrick. 

What are the positive effects of social media on relationships? 

The impact of social media has garnered a bad reputation in recent years but with the right boundaries in place, it can be a healthy outlet in your relationship. 

Recent research indicates that moderate or passive social media use can have a positive effect on social connection. For example, if you live apart from your family members or loved ones — it opens a new way to stay connected. (It’s certainly a lot faster than the postal service!) 

If you are a frequent user of social media, it’s a natural way to express yourself and can have a positive impact on your relationship. According to Dr. Fedrick, other positives of social media include: 

  1. Can be used to demonstrate gratitude or adoration for your partner. 
  2. Creates opportunities to document joyful events and special occasions. 
  3. Can be a fun way to flirt with your partner (commenting on each other’s posts, tagging each other, sending each other silly memes). 
  4. Is a great way to keep you connected with your partner throughout the day. It is also a great tool in long-distance relationships to stay connected and interactive outside of calls and texts. 
  5. Can be one person’s hobby or a very effective business tool (this is positive as long as there is balance in how much it is used). 
  6. Can start discussions on shared interests, it's often an affordable and easy way to learn new hobbies via a social media video, such as cooking videos or even relationship skills.

What are the negative effects of social media on relationships?

Research shows that higher dependence on social media can negatively impact relationship satisfaction, with high usage of Instagram particularly causing conflict. When we choose instant delivery, what are we giving up in exchange for the time and effort we could put into writing a letter and sending it by mail?

People who experience social media addiction are especially affected, with the inability to step away from social media increasing social anxiety and limiting healthy communication skills. The phenomenon of ‘phubbing’ is also on the rise, whereby your partner completely ignores you in favor of their phone in social situations. 

Research shows that phubbing goes against social etiquette and is incredibly rude, especially in a romantic scenario. Not only that, but it also limits your emotional connection — with your phone acting interrupting quality time with your partner. 

Social media plays on our insecurities, especially if we’re constantly viewing perfectly manicured relationships online. Not only can this impact our self-esteem, but can make it seem like our relationships aren’t living up to these grand expectations. 

It’s important to remember that social media is only the highlight reel — not to be used as a tool of comparison against the everyday reality of your own romantic relationships. 

According to Dr. Fedrick, other negatives of social media include:

Brings other people into your personal life and can feel intrusive to some.
Can be used to make passive-aggressive jabs at others, including your partner (obscure quotes, not liking/commenting on posts, unfollowing, blocking, etc.).
Can allow for secretive messages to be exchanged.
Can create opportunities for flirting or emotional affairs.
If used excessively, can be distracting and take away from the quality of your one-on-one time with your partner (when used to document dates, etc.).
If you struggle to separate real life from what is happening online, you can bring unhealthy behaviors into a relationship. Such as the way people communicate in comment sections or incorporate the advice that might not be valid for your situation.

How to deal with social media in relationships

Social media is a powerful tool, with no end to its reach. Such an impactful medium should be treated with respect, as it can infringe upon your relationship privacy and progression if not monitored effectively. 

“The most effective way to deal with social media in relationships is through boundaries, compromise, and open and honest conversation,” says Dr. Fedrick. 

“Compromise is a crucial component of any healthy relationship. Compromise sends the message that while our wants and needs are important, our partner’s wants and needs are equally important and must also be considered and met when possible.” 

In new relationships or in the early stages of online dating, it’s so easy to get sucked in by the information which social media provides. 

Who do they follow? Who comments on their posts? Is that a picture of their ex? 

Even though it’s natural to be curious about your new partner, social media can be a slippery slope in terms of toxic tendencies. By over-analyzing the version they portray of themselves on social media, it can be easy to misinterpret or misunderstand their virtual persona. 

Before you descend down the rabbit hole of their social media accounts, you should have an honest and open conversation about how these platforms impact your relationship. 

“When it comes to compromising about social media specifically, it’s important for each partner to express their views and perspectives on their current social media usage,” says Dr. Fedrick. 

“They can share some of the reasons they interact on social media the way that they do, including the benefits and what they enjoy about it. Each partner can then express if they have any concerns or discomfort with the other person’s social media usage or boundaries.”

If your partner’s social media use bothers you, this isn’t something you should keep to yourself. Everyone uses these online platforms differently, with social media’s involvement in your partner’s life entirely personal to them. Even though you may use it differently — it doesn’t mean that they use it incorrectly. 

“However, it’s crucial that there is no shaming, blaming, attacking, or criticizing during this time in order for an effective compromise to be possible,” says Dr. Fedrick.

“If a partner does have concerns, it would be valuable for them to suggest alternatives and different ideas on what might make them more comfortable.” 

For example, you may feel that your relationship status should be voiced on social media, while your partner may want to be more private. These alternate views should be discussed and a compromise should be considered, so both partners feel secure about this aspect of social media. 

“Not posting your partner on social media is not always a red flag, especially if your partner does not enjoy social media or if there have been conversations about wanting to respect and honor your privacy around your relationship,” says Dr. Fedrick. 

“If there have not been conversations regarding this, an individual is repeatedly not posting or appears to be hiding your relationship, this could be a concern. However, instead of assuming this is a red flag or jumping to conclusions, it’s important to have an open conversation regarding this behavior and get curious about your partner’s perspective on this.” 

According to Dr. Fedrick, these are some ideas on how to compromise with social media in relationships:

Each partner is to be flexible and meet in the middle.
Take turns talking and exploring different perspectives.
Sometimes it is necessary to let something go and pick your battles.
Try to be more open-minded and reconsider your stance.
When necessary, stand firm in your feelings and beliefs about something, and gently ask for your partner to respect your request.
Consider agreeing to try it one way and be willing to pivot as needed along the way.

How do you set social media boundaries in relationships? 

Since social media can have such an active involvement in our lives, it’s important to put boundaries in place to ensure it doesn’t affect your own mental health — or the health of your relationship. 

“Setting boundaries around social media requires open and honest conversations,” says Dr. Fedrick. 

“It requires the willingness to consider each other's perspective, as well as to engage in a manner that respects the comfort level of your partner.” 

Once again, this kind of approach relies on open communication and the ability to compromise with your partner. 

For example, a healthy boundary would be suggesting a kind of social media detox by putting your phones away on date night. However, if your partner wants to take photos of your night out or perhaps needs to be on standby for work — a compromise should be agreed upon so both parties are comfortable. 

“Healthy boundaries should be firm and flexible,” says Dr. Fedrick. 

“That means that they are not rigid, but also not merely a passing suggestion. It’s crucial that you’re each very clear and specific about what you are comfortable with when it comes to social media, but also not turn these boundaries into rigid demands.” 

By putting these healthy boundaries in place, it’s easier to advocate for social media transparency in the relationship. This does not mean that you can’t retain your own privacy, but this approach can help eliminate fears about social media secrecy. 

For example, secretly using Snapchat or other social networking sites might inspire thoughts of infidelity — when this may not be the case at all. Being honest with your partner can help eliminate these insecurities or arguments before they arise. 

“If one partner is struggling with the other partner's lack of boundaries around social media, it’s crucial for this partner to openly and honestly address their concerns,” says Dr. Fedrick. 

“Our partners are not mind readers, thus we can’t expect that they know something is amiss unless we let them know. Whenever we’re bringing up a difficult or uncomfortable topic with our partner, we want to ensure we do not blindside them with this information.” 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between a ‘social media relationship’ and a ‘real relationship’?

    Social media relationships are kind of similar to PR relationships. They seem like they are genuine and real on the surface, even though the media in question is masking the truth. People who are in social media relationships may excessively post about their partner and document every aspect of their partnership online. However, the representation of the relationship is entirely untrue and does not compare to a genuine, loving, and healthy relationship — which may be entirely offline!
  • What do I do when my partner likes a lot of personal pages and it makes me uncomfortable?

    When you're scrolling through Instagram, it can be confusing to see your partner liking someone else’s posts. Even though the interaction may be entirely innocent, it can inspire insecurities and questions about the relationship in question. This is why it’s important to put social media boundaries in place, so as to avoid any arguments around these interactions.
  • Could a social media detox help my relationship?

    If you find yourself mindlessly scrolling constantly, it could have an impact on your mental health and your relationship. In these cases, it could be a great time for a social media detox or a timeline cleanse. A timeline cleanse is where you take a critical look at who you follow and think about how the content you are consuming is impacting you. Try unfollowing or hiding this kind of content, especially if it’s having an impact on your relationship.
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