Is Social Media Ruining Your Relationships? It Doesn’t Have To



Unfriending my ExWay back in 1984, I was having dinner with some female friends at the large technology company where we all worked. All of us had notebook computers – the Tandy Model 100, the first truly portable computer with a built-in modem to connect it to the online world – and one of the women sheepishly admitted that the first thing she did every morning was roll over in bed, reach for her Model 100, and check for email and new CompuServe messages.

She wasn’t alone then – and she certainly isn’t alone now. According to Qbee Media, a third of Facebook’s female users between 18 and 34 check Facebook when they first wake up, even before going to the bathroom.

Is that a bad thing? It might be, depending on the individual involved. Social media addiction can cause or exacerbate a range of personality issues. For instance, those prone to depression can become more depressed by comparing their lives to the idealized picture other people’s lives present on social media.

In the 80’s, when the online world was brand new and CompuServe, The Well, and AOL were the online world’s pioneers, the ability to connect with anyone, anywhere, meant developing a certain set of technical skills, and spending a fairly significant amount of money unless your employer (like mine) provided a free account for your use. Back then, chatting with friends in one of CompuServe’s “CB Simulator” chat rooms cost $6 per hour, and I know people who ran up significant credit card debt to do so.

Now, of course, everyone with a cell phone has access to social media and apps like Tinder have changed the world of dating forever. Some, including the New York Post, go farther and claim that the hook-up culture at the heart of Tinder and its imitators is ruining society as a whole.

I’m not against online dating per se. I have a son happily married to a wonderful woman he met through Facebook, and one of my best friends is happily married to someone she met online through Match.com. My friend Jane just celebrated 30 years of marriage to someone she met in one of those CompuServe chat rooms. Jane inherited a retail empire before she was 25, and had never been sure if the men she met were interested in her or her fortune until she went online anonymously. But when she met John they hit it off online, then on the phone, and then in a series of face-to-face meetings. It was only on their sixth face-to-face “date” about a year into their virtual relationship that he found out she was rich when she invited him to spend the weekend at the beachfront mansion she called home.

By that time they’d spent hundreds of hours talking and falling in love and the income disparity didn’t matter to either one. When they got engaged, Jane’s mother wasn’t about to tell the society page that Jane and her finance had met in an online chat room, so when asked, she said they had been introduced by Jane’s friend Mac (true, I guess, as Jane used a first-generation Macintosh computer to access CompuServe).

But, while I’m not ready to go quite that as far as the Post did and declare Tinder a threat to society, I would be sad if any of my children or grandchildren resorted to Tinder and substituted a quick hook-up for a real relationship.

Social Media Stats & Habits That Worry the Experts

Here are some of the social media statistics that make some experts worry that social media is interfering too much with interpersonal relationships according to writer Giselle Abramovich, who says that with all that sharing (and over-sharing), there’s a downside to go along with the connectedness.

Abramovich says that these statistics about how people use social media are alarming, because they show just how reliant we are on social media for relationships.

  • 87% of bullied teens were targeted on Facebook.
  • 35% of employers have found information on social media that’s caused them not to hire a job candidate.
  • Links about sex are shared 90% more than any other link on Facebook.
  • Facebook has been linked to 66% of divorces in the U.S., with 81% of the nation’s top divorce lawyers claiming clients have cited “damning evidence” from social networks in divorces over the past five years.

Author Kim Stolz, who rose to fame as a contestant on the reality show America’s Next Top Model, penned a book called Unfriending My Ex And Other Things I’ll Never Do. Despite the title, Stolz has been outspoken about how social media ruins relationships.

One of the points in her book is that social media has changed the way people view themselves. “I think the rise of social media is definitely correlated with the rise of narcissism in our society. Our self-esteem depends on how many likes we get, how many followers we get, if someone texts us back.

“And I think when you see your phone light up from across the room, it’s that ping of dopamine in your system. You get that euphoric, excited feeling, and I think that’s addictive. Now we text people, we Instagram, we Vine, we Tinder just to feel that again. And the more we do it, the more we get it back, so it becomes a very addictive process. It really is all about narcissism. Some coworkers and I were talking about how when we FaceTime, we just end up looking at ourselves in that little box,” Stolz said in an interview.

The downside of the self-esteem boost we get from social media, she writes, is that we take a self-esteem hit because we are constantly comparing our own social media successes and posts to those of other people. “But even when we fulfill this urge to make ourselves feel better by bragging via an Instagram picture about a great meal we had or an awesome concert we went to, it seems like that happiness is diminished once we look at other people’s feeds.”

Stolz also writes that a lot of relationships have been ruined by one person’s addiction to social media, whether that addiction leads to a connection with a past love or you wind up with nothing to talk about because looked through each other’s social media feeds all day long.

Social media addiction, jealousy over online interactions, and a lack of empathy are other symptoms of social media’s impact on relationships, the author says. In her book Stolz cites a study that found college students are 40% less empathetic than they were 30 years ago, thanks to on-screen interactions that make it easier to say mean things and act before considering the consequences of their actions.

How to Protect Your Relationships

Woman's face heavily made up with social sharing icons around her by geralt from PixabayA survey of 5,000 British social media users highlights some problem areas to avoid as a first step towards protecting your “real life” relationships from the stress of social media.

The survey found that:

  • 17% said Facebook made them jealous of their partner’s other online relationships – but 40% admitted they had monitored a partner’s social media activity due to jealousy. (Don’t monitor your partner’s social media without permission, says a Texas judge.)
  • 26% said they had argued with their partner because they felt neglected when updating Facebook seemed more important than talking to them face to face.
  • 44% said social media ruined romantic moments when a partner felt the need to update social media about a candle-lit dinner or other romantic moment instead of just enjoying it.
  • 32% said they felt a loss of intimacy in the bedroom because their partner checked into the social media site in bed. (Author Kim Stolz says 10% of the people she talked with for her book admitted to checking their phones while actually having sex.)

So how do you avoid becoming a statistic? I think that the first rule is knowing when to turn off the cell phone or at least take a few hours away from it. For instance, during a weekly date night, you might agree to ignore the phone unless it’s an emergency from a few family members (or the babysitter). Tell people to use the 911 emergency prefix to a message if it’s REALLY important and can’t wait until your romantic dinner or date has ended.

More important, however, is for couples to take time to discuss their expectations and establish some ground rules for social media. Here are some of the points I think couples need to agree on to avoid problems:

  1. Are there some topics that you want to keep private — things that shouldn’t be shared on social media? If so, does your partner understand the limits of what you want shared (including photos and videos) online, and what you expect to be kept private?
  2. Are there some people from the past — exes, for example — you don’t want your partner interacting with online? If so, why? Can you reach an agreement on this? If not, are you willing to agree to disagree?
  3. Are there some times when you just want to be together, without the intrusion of social media? If so, when? Can you agree on those times?

The real key to keeping social media from interfering with your relationships, I think, is to remember that anything in digital format can be forwarded, shared, or made public. Anyone who thinks that what they do online — even using an anonymous account — can’t come back to haunt them is simply deluded.

I don’t read my husband’s blog, and I don’t follow him on Facebook or Twitter. It isn’t that I don’t love him, and I’m not interested in what he says. It’s just that we’ve discussed it, and this is what works for us, nearly 20 years into our marriage. What works for you? How do you keep social media from derailing your relationship?

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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