The recently published study of Facebook participants and how emotions can spread across social networks caused a big stir. The researchers called it “emotional contagion”, meaning that our moods are affected by our friend’s posts.
That study is the tip of the iceberg on how social media affects us. As a couple’s therapist I can tell you not a week goes by that I don’t hear the myriad ways Facebook impacts relationships. And yes, that definitely affects your mood.
Here are some common scenarios . . .
1. Singles often use Facebook as a free, online dating site. You could meet new people through friends of friends or reignite an old flame. Meeting someone this way feels safer than engaging with total strangers.
The down side is everyone makes themselves look better on Facebook. You miss body language, facial expressions and tone, three things that help us discern sincerity from deception. Online communication often turns from platonic to flirty (or sexual) very quickly. While that may be ego boosting, it can also cause poor decision making early in relationships as we can confuse lust for love.
2. Facebook can be a source of relationship betrayal, and that includes everything from arousing feelings of jealousy to actual infidelity.
Our egos demand that we collect many Facebook friends, the higher the number, the better. Problems arise when these friends are not friends of the couple. Exes, co-workers and old friends are all targets of jealousy by your partner. Commenting on how great your co-worker looks in her bikini seems innocent enough, but problems with trust almost always ensue.
Since it is easy to meet or re-connect with someone on Facebook, it is the genesis of many extra-relationship affairs. Facebook is available 24/7, thus increasing the temptation to communicate. It is easy to hide messages from your partner, and you can even change your password or block your partner from seeing your timeline.
3. We all have curiosity about our exes when we break up, but Facebook makes it easy for us to keep tabs on them. Why unfriend your ex when you can see their relationship status, where they are going, who they are with and how much fun they are having? Facebook stalking is a form of throwing salt on your own wound.
It seems logical to point an accusing finger at Facebook for these relationship issues, but social media is not the the problem. Poor boundaries, loss of friendship/romance, and lack of trust are the underlying causes of pain.
The internet provides convenience in all aspects of life, and that includes relationship issues. Before social media we would “go the store to get milk” to create time to see our affair partner. Now all we have to do is log on and that could be while we are in bed next to our spouse. We used to have to drive by our exes apartment or workplace to keep tabs on them, but Facebook stalking is much more efficient.
The internet gives the illusion of secrecy so we say and do things we wouldn’t dream of saying in person, especially in the presence of our spouse. Making negative comparisons of your real life partner to a photoshopped Facebook picture makes the fantasy of a perfect partner feel more real. But these things are major boundary violations in your relationship and help you to jump on the express train to infidelity.
If your relationship is suffering and Facebook is a central theme, it may be wise to dig below the surface. Facebook is most likely a symptom of bigger problems.