The increasing popularity of social networking websites such as Facebook has affected how we interact with one another, and that includes how we communicate with our romantic partners. Initiating the courting process has gone from bravely asking a person out to dinner on their doorstep to simply instant messaging the person or even liking their profile picture. While it is evident that Facebook has influenced that change, you may wonder if that change is for better or worse. So let’s examine the ups and downs of having a relationship in the Facebook age.
First, the benefits:
1) Facebook makes new relationships more easily accessible: While people rarely use Facebook as a venue for meeting new people, it is often used for the next phase of contact after an initial face-to-face meeting. Facebook makes it easier and quicker for people to filter out potential partners who spark little interest or compatibility. Rather than waiting until the third date to realize that a person is not a good match for you, Facebook instantly provides information about the potential partner’s interests and hobbies. Facebook also makes it easier to brush off the rejection of a potential relationship than a direct, face-to-face interaction because of the minimal effort and emotional investment that Facebook requires.1
2) Facebook allows you to integrate your social network with your partner’s: Couples can maintain satisfying relationships by being a part of each other’s social networks.2 Facebook provides great convenience for couples to interact with each other’s social networks, making the integration of friends easier than ever. In fact, researchers discovered that they could actually guess who people’s romantic partners were by examining the extent to which their friend networks were integrated on Facebook. That is, it wasn’t just the number of mutual friends they shared, but how those mutual friends were dispersed. If Mike is friends with Sara, and Sara is friends with some of Mike’s high school friends, some of his work friends, and some of his family members, Sara is probably his girlfriend.3 So even Facebook can spot a healthy relationship.
3) Facebook can help you practice relationship maintenance techniques: Facebook also allows people to communicate with their romantic partners easily, at a distance. In order for relationships to be successful, it is important that partners continuously work on and nurture the relationship. We can keep our relationships strong by having positive interactions with our partner, and providing them with assurances—declarations of love and commitment.2 One study showed that couples who portrayed positive (cheerful and upbeat statuses about their relationship and partner) and assuring (statuses that emphasize commitment to the relationship) relationship maintenance behaviors on Facebook reported greater relationship satisfaction.4 Posting a status like, “I can’t wait to spend time with my boyfriend back home,” and “I swear I will love this girl forever,” can help relationships flourish both online and offline.
Disclosing authentic information about one’s relationship is beneficial as well. One study found that when people displayed their relationship status as “in a relationship” and posted disclosing statuses and pictures of themselves with their partners, they reported higher satisfaction.5 Another study found that males who display partnered statuses and females who include their partner in their profile picture were especially satisfied with their relationships.6 Therefore, posting statuses and pictures promoting the relationship’s health may be beneficial to couples’ satisfaction. But of course these findings should be interpreted with caution, as these expressions of affection on Facebook may not be making people happier with their relationships, but rather just serving as another venue for those who are already in satisfying relationships to express themselves.
Now let’s examine the downside to using Facebook in your relationship.
1) Going “Facebook Official” raises confusion and conflict: Once a relationship intensifies past the initiating and experimental phases and a couple decides to go “Facebook official” (FBO), Facebook can become a source of relational confusion and distress. Typically, women feel that going FBO implies exclusivity and seriousness of the relationship. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to commit to being FBO in order to maintain the image that his female counterpart is taken while continuing to pursue other relationships simultaneously because men attach less seriousness to the FBO status.7 Such discrepancies can cause distress and conflict that leads to dissatisfaction, and even break-up.
2) Facebook can be a source of jealousy and anxiety: All the information contained on Facebook can create a sense of jealousy, suspicion, and uncertainty for coupled users. Many interactions on Facebook are ambiguous, as you may not know some of your partner’s Facebook friends or the nature of those relationships. In some cases, this may arouse suspicion, especially for people who tend to be jealous, are anxious their partner may leave them, or generally don’t trust their partner.8,9 Facebook creates a negative feedback loop in which potential jealousy-provoking information leads to more partner surveillance on Facebook, which, in turn, increases the chance of experiencing more Facebook-related jealousy.10 Though the partner may very well continue to be loyal, Facebook provides easy accessibility for partner surveillance, which may disrupt a person’s sense of autonomy and privacy as well as the stability of the relationship.11 It is important to note that Facebook does not have to lead to jealousy, but if you are an anxious or untrusting person, Facebook can make the situation much worse.
3) Excessive time on Facebook can harm your relationships: Not only does continued Facebook use increase jealousy, but it can have other detrimental effects on the relationship as well. One study found that high levels of Facebook usage were associated with negative relationship outcomes like cheating and break-up.12 Such negative outcomes are generally the result of Facebook-related conflicts like contacting an ex-partner and constant partner monitoring. In fact, those who show obsessive signs of Facebook use, such as interruptions in their daily lives by thoughts regarding Facebook, experience much greater levels of jealousy and relationship dissatisfaction.13 As with jealousy, Facebook may not directly cause problems in your relationship, but it can add fuel to fire.
4) Other people may not like it if you show off your relationship on Facebook: As I detailed in an earlier post, posting overly personal information about one’s relationship can make a bad impression on others. One study showed that individuals who post highly disclosing statuses about their relationships are liked less by others.14 This may be harmful in the long run, especially if the relationship dissolves and the individuals decide to look for other potential mates among their social network.
Facebook can have both positive and negative effects on relationships, but it all depends on what type of person you are and how you use the social networking site. If you tend to be jealous and untrusting, or tend to overuse Facebook, then it could make things worse for your relationships. On the other hand, when starting a relationship, Facebook can be used as a positive tool, and once that relationship develops, Facebook can help you maintain a healthy relationship.
This post was co-authored by Anthony Roberson, a student at Albright College.
Gwendolyn Seidman, Ph.D. is an associate professor of psychology at Albright College, who studies relationships and cyberpsychology.
1 Fox, J., Warber, K. M., & Makstaller, D. C. (2013). The role of Facebook in romantic relationship development: An exploration of Knapp's relational stage model. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(6), 771-794. doi:10.1177/0265407512468370
2 Weigel, D.J. (2008). A dyadic assessment of how couples indicate their commitment to each other. Personal Relationships, 15, 17-39.
3 Backstrom, L., & Kleinber, J. (2013). Romantic Partnerships and the Dispersion of Social Ties: A Network Analysis of Relationship Status on Facebook. Proceedings of the 17th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, 831-841.
4 Dainton, M. (2013). Relationship maintenance on Facebook: Development of a measure, relationship to general maintenance, and relationship satisfaction. College Student Journal, 47(1), 113-121.
5 Steers, M. N., Øverup, C. S., Brunson, J. A., & Acitelli, L. K. (2015). Love online: How relationship awareness on Facebook relates to relationship quality among college students. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, published online before print. doi:10.1037/ppm0000067
6 Papp, L. M., Danielewicz, J., & Cayemberg, C. (2012). ‘‘Are we Facebook official?’’ Implications of dating partners’ Facebook use and profiles for intimate relationship satisfaction. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(2), 85-90. doi:10.1089/cyber.2011.0291
7 Fox, J., & Warber, K. M. (2013). Romantic relationship development in the age of Facebook: An exploratory study of emerging adults' perceptions, motives, and behaviors. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16(1), 3-7. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0288
8 Fox, J., & Warber, K. M. (2014). Social networking sites in romantic relationships: Attachment, uncertainty, and partner surveillance on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17(1), 3-7. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0667
9 Tokunaga, R. S. (2015). Interpersonal surveillance over social network sites: Applying a theory of negative relational maintenance and the investment model. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, published online before print. doi: 10.1177/0265407514568749
10 Muise, A, ChristofidesM., & Desmarais S. (2009). More information than you ever wanted: Does Facebook bring out the green-eyed monster of jealousy? Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 12(4), 441-444.
11 Fox, J., Osborn, J. L., & Warber, K. M. (2014). Relational dialectics and social networking sites: The role of Facebook in romantic relationship escalation, maintenance, conflict, and dissolution. Computers in Human Behavior, 35, 527-534. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2014.02.031
12 Clayton, R. B., Nagurney, A., & Smith, J. R. (2013). Cheating, breakup, and divorce: Is Facebook use to blame? Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16(10), 717-720. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0424
13 Elphinston, R. A., & Noller, P. (2011). Time to face it! Facebook intrusion and the implications for romantic jealousy and relationship satisfaction. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(11), 631-635. doi:10.1089/cyber.2010.0318
14 Emery, L. F., Muise, A., Alpert, E., & Le, B. (2015). Do we look happy? Perceptions of romantic relationship quality on Facebook. Personal Relationships, 22(1), 1-7. doi:10.1111/pere.12059