In most people’s lives the mobile phone is ever present. Our phone is often the last thing we look at before we go to sleep and the first thing we check on waking. When we meet up with a few friends for a coffee we don’t just bring ourselves, we have input from hundreds of extra people with us via our phones. Our attention is divided between the friends who are sitting next to us and the allure of social media, which often wins. Have you ever witnessed a family or group of friends sitting in silence because everyone is so engrossed with their phones? For some people, attachment to social media is now so pronounced that they feel something akin to separation anxiety when parted from their phones for even short periods.

Snooping, social media and relationships

Repeated studies have found that men and women admit to snooping on their partner’s private messages, even though they themselves consider their partner snooping on them as good grounds for ending the relationship. The fact that potentially one or both parties are snooping suggests that trust is lacking, which is an issue that needs to be addressed if the relationship is to be healthy. Another common problem is the harm caused by posting negative updates about partners when we perceive that they’ve done something wrong. While for some this is normal behaviour, it is consistently proven to be destructive to the health of the relationship, romantic or otherwise.

‘I’m envious when friend’s posts get more attention than mine’

This often repeated feeling results in individuals thinking up creative ways to make their posts more appealing. Rather than simply enjoying what friends are posting and being happy for them, envy results in negative strategising. The actions taken can include posting unflattering pictures of friends in a deliberate attempt to embarrass them. While the person doing it argues it’s done in fun, it should be obvious to them that this will harm the relationship, especially as they admit they wouldn’t like it if it the friend did it to them. So how does this type of behaviour affect romantic relationships?

‘I’m jealous of other people’s relationships’

The phenomena of relationship jealousy and superiority are not new, and were identified and studied by psychologists long before social media existed. In the modern world it’s normal for people to post gushing statuses about their relationships to make it seem as if theirs is superior to others. The irony of this is that for many, constantly posting expressions of love and affection are a mask to hide one or both partner’s insecurities about the relationship. Let’s dig a bit deeper into individual behaviour.

‘What other people post is fake’

There is some truth in this assertion with many people using their profiles to make their lives seem better and more exciting than they really are. Again there is an irony here in that even though many believe other’s profiles are deliberately misleading, they themselves post misleading information in an effort to compete. It seems that the public appearance has become more important than reality, resulting in more and more time spent on social media ‘faking it’. So is this true of both partners in the relationship?

‘My partner spends too much time on social media’

This complaint is reported as being a major source of disagreement between couples. There is a third irony here; often individuals cause disharmony in relationships because they spend time on social media persuading the world that their relationship is perfect. Oddly this seems to make more sense to them than understanding their partner and working on the relationship to improve it. We can infer from the research that usually one partner spends more time on social media than the other, hence the conflict.

Selfies and self-obsession

Studies have found a high correlation between the number of selfies posted and self-obsession. The paradox of this is that many self-obsessed people either have low self-esteem and need other’s constant feedback in order to feel good about themselves, or are narcissistic and need other’s to enhance their overblown opinions of themselves. Either way the same studies suggest that both types of people DO NOT make good partners. With their attention focussed on themselves and outside the relationship, it’s less likely that it’ll be focused on you. If you’re looking for a relationship it’s worth learning how to identify these traits in potential partners, and also asking yourself the question, am I like this? If you think you are it may be time to put the phone down and do some work on yourself, and recognise that healthy self-esteem comes from within.

‘I see myself in this, how do I make things better?’

The good news is, there’s a correlation between relationship satisfaction and a lack of regular posting. In short, people who really are happy with their relationships don’t feel the need to tell the world about it on an hour by hour basis. Although for many social media has become an obsession, research has shown time and again that people’s happiness levels increase when they spend less time using it.

Are there any good aspects to social media and relationships?

The happy answer is yes. Used wisely social media is a great tool that enhances people’s lives in measurable ways. Here are a few examples.

Making new friends or reconnecting with old ones

Social media is reported as being a great way to reconnect and keep in touch with old friends, especially if they have moved away. Platforms like Facebook not just allow us to see how our friends spend their time, but also to vicariously enjoy their activities via photographs and enthusiastic status updates.

An alternative social life

For people who shy away from classic social interactions and venues, social media has resulted in a burgeoning social life; it provides warmth and camaraderie that they may never have experienced without it. Consider people you work with, those who don’t say much and never go out, well at home they connect and chat with people from all over the world. It’s strange but despite the obvious rewarding and positive aspects of their relationships, they report experiencing prejudice from family members who don’t see value in their cyber friendships. In their reality they argue that their social life is so much better because their friends are from a wide and culturally diverse base. For people who socialise in this way it is not uncommon for them to plan trips abroad to visit their friends, romantic relationships also form in this way.

Cyber romance

Internet dating is not the only way to meet romantic partners from afar. For many, social media platforms have resulted in couples becoming friends for extended periods, and then seeing the friendships blossom into romance. For many of us this challenges our preconceived ideas of how partnerships should be formed. It’s interesting to compare couples who have come together in this way with ‘normal’ couples who meet in classic social venues. Cyber couple’s relationships form slowly from friendships based in shared interests, with the individuals genuinely having time to get to know each other. Classic couples are often attracted by physical appearance and the influence of the setting they’re in, which may not be the best influences of long term relationships. I discuss this in my article ‘what you didn’t know about physical attraction’ so I won’t get into it again here. It could be argued that relationships that begin via social media have more of a survival chance because at first the couples were firm friends and really got to know each other; it’s certainly something for us to think about.

Find some balance

If you recognise some of the negative things I’ve discussed in yourself I’m not suggesting that you stop using social media. Instead work to find a better balance, when you’re in company turn your phone off and keep it in your bag or pocket. Whatever’s on there will keep until later and you can enjoy the friends sitting next to you without distraction. In a restaurant or bar some friends agree to put their phones in a basket on the table, with the first to pick theirs up having to pay the bill. If you’re in a relationship make sure that your phone does not get in the way of quality time with your partner. Perhaps agree to leave your phones switched off in another room.

I know these suggestions may seem incomprehensible to some, but remind yourself that it’s for the health of your relationship. Mobile phones have not been around for that long, your parents managed without them and so can you, at least for an hour or two.