When Public Displays of Affection Reflect Reality

We have all seen that couple at the party who appears to have the perfect relationship.  Gazing into each other´s eyes, holding hands, smiling and talking together the entire evening, they appear to be a match made in heaven.  Skeptics, however, question whether a couple’s public displays of affection accurately reflect their private relationship.

Sometimes, the answer is positively associated with the couple´s proactivity in advertising their union. From wearing a partner´s varsity jacket in high school, to a fraternity pin in college, to a wedding ring, we recognize the social value of publically displaying relational status.

The same social customs operate online.  As with the demonstrably affectionate couple at the party, some might question a couple’s relational authenticity when observing them frequently posting information and photographs together on Facebook.  Yet if they are “Facebook official,” research indicates they just might be as happy as they look. 

The Benefits of Becoming “Facebook Official” 

Congratulations, you have graduated from Facebook Friends to Facebook official.  This public proclamation of couplehood has consistently been linked with positive relational qualities, as well as relationship duration. 

In a study entitled “Can You See How Happy We Are?” Saslow et al. (2012) found that partners who posted profile pictures as a couple reported higher relational satisfaction, and were more likely to share relationship relevant information on days where they were experiencing higher relational satisfaction.[i]

Exploring how this process begins, Fox et al. (2013) found Facebook to be a primary method of reducing relational uncertainty during the early stages of relationship formation.[ii] They noted that relational exclusivity usually precedes the decision to go Facebook Official, indicating that couples who are publically an item enjoy more committed, stable relationships.

Subsequent research by Orosz et al. (2015) recognized Facebook as a place to publically declare romantic commitment and enhance relational security.[iii] They found that announcing relationship status is linked with higher jealousy and romantic love, and that becoming Facebook official effectively takes the couple off the market and functions like a “digital wedding ring.”

Even more recently in “Making it Facebook official,” Lane et al. (2016) found individuals who display their relationship status on Facebook enjoyed stronger relationships, within which they were more committed, invested, and satisfied, than non-Facebook official relationships.[iv]

In addition, they found that individuals who disclosed their relationship status on Facebook perceived relational alternatives as being of lower quality.  Their results showed that partners who are more committed disclose relational status online, which increases the likelihood of relationship persistence, and alternatively, people intending a relationship to continue are more likely to go Facebook official. 

How Going Facebook Official Can Reduce Romantic Rivals

As with offline social networks, online social media platforms contain romantic alternatives, some of whom continue to make contact with committed partners even after a couple has publicly declared themselves to be an item.  Facebook makes it easy to communicate with romantic alternatives, either publicly or through private messaging.

Yet going Facebook official may provide protection against being seduced by romantic rivals due to the enhanced level of commitment.  Drouin et al. (2014) found that it was people who were less committed to their partners who were more likely to both send and accept friend requests from desirable romantic alternatives.[v]

For Facebook Official Couples, Appearances Are Often Reality

Relational commitment fuels the desire to publicize relational status as a couple, and enhances relational satisfaction.  The entire process appears to be a fulfilling, positive, self-fulfilling prophecy.  Perhaps couples who share their lives together on Facebook really are as happy as they look.

About the author:

Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, is a career prosecutor, author, and behavioral expert.  She is the author of author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House). 

She lectures around the world on sexual assault prevention, safe cyber security, and threat assessment, and is an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are her own. 

Find her at wendypatrickphd.com or @WendyPatrickPhD

References

[i] Laura R. Saslow, Amy Muise, Emily A. Impett, and Matt Dubin, ”Can You See How Happy We Are? Facebook Images and Relationship Satisfaction,” Social Psychological and Personality Science 4, no. 4 (2012): 411-418 (416).

[ii] Jesse Fox, Katie M. Warber, and Dana C. Makstaller, ”The role of Facebook in romantic relationship development: An exploration of Knapp´s relational stage model,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 30, no. 6 (2013): 771-794.

[iii] Gabor Orosz, Adam Szekeres, Zoltan G. Kiss, Peter Farkas, and Christine Roland-Levy, ”Elevated romantic love and  jealousy if relationship status is declared on Facebook,” Frontiers in Psychology 6 (2015): 1-6.

[iv] Brianna L. Lane, Cameron Wade Piercy, and Caleb T. Carr, ”Making it Facebook official: The warrenting value of online relationship status disclosures on relational characteristics,” Computers in Human Behavior 56 (2016): 1-8.

[v] Michelle Drouin, Daniel A. Miller, and Jayson L. Dibble, "Ignore your partners´current Facebook friends; beware the ones they add!” Computers in Human Behavior 35 (2014): 483-488.

You are reading

Why Bad Looks Good

Tagging Toxic Peers: How Online Friends Become Frenemies

Online, virtual aggression is more likely to come from friends than foes

When Words are Deadly Weapons: Michelle Carter´s Conviction

Would you rather text than talk? Beware the power of electronic persuasion

The Relationship Benefits of Going “Facebook Official”

Publicly disclosing a relationship online signals commitment and satisfaction.