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Social Media and Relationships

A few important rules.

Courtesy of Pixabay
Source: Courtesy of Pixabay

Research has shown that social media can affect the quality of our relationships. In fact, one survey study with 205 Facebook users demonstrated that a higher level of Facebook usage was associated with negative relationship outcomes (Clayton, Nagurney, & Smith, 2013). In addition, those relationships experienced Facebook-related conflict (Clayton, et al., 2013). Facebook usage has also been linked to increased feelings of jealousy (Muise, Christofides, & Desmarais, 2009).

Another study showed that exposure, after a breakup, to an ex’s Facebook profile may hinder the process of healing and moving on (Marshall, 2012). In fact, checking up on an ex’s profile led to more distress over the breakup, more negative feelings, and less personal growth (Marshall, 2012).

Research has demonstrated the toll that social media can take, not only on our current relationships but also on our ability to form new relationships. However, getting off social media is a challenge for many people, as a great deal of our communication happens online. If we want to remain online, but safeguard our relationships and ability to cope after a breakup, what steps can we take to make our online environment a bit safer?

1. Unfollow and/or remove your exes from social media.

It is nearly impossible to get over a person if your social media feed is constantly bombarded by pictures of him/her. If your goal is to remain friends with your ex, an honest conversation with him/her noting that you need your distance while the breakup is still fresh may be worthwhile. You may choose to unfollow him/her (if an option on the platform), rather than completely removing your former flame.

Muise et al. (2009) found in their study of 308 undergraduates that “Facebook may expose an individual to potentially jealousy-provoking information about their partner, which creates a feedback loop whereby heightened jealousy leads to increased surveillance of a partner’s Facebook page. Persistent surveillance results in further exposure to jealousy-provoking information” (p. 443). In order to break this cycle, try to remove yourself from social media to whatever extent possible.

2. Be aware of your online presence.

Yes, breakups can be hard, and yes, they can be very painful. However, it is important not to air any dirty laundry over the internet. What you put out there has a way of getting around and remaining public (even if swiftly deleted). If you are having a tough time, it is important to seek support from family, friends, and/or a professional. Do not solicit advice or vent about past problems to your social media communities. This may come back to haunt you. In addition, oversharing may actually alienate your other online friends.

Sharing too much has been shown to decrease the quality of real-life relationships. A study with 508 Facebook users found that sharing too many selfies can actually lead to a decrease in intimacy in relationships (Houghton, Joinson, Caldwell, & Marder, 2013). The authors suggest that a certain level of censorship is necessary so as not to alienate your companions by your online behavior.

3. Carry out your new relationship(s) IRL and not through social media.

Focus less on creating the perfect social media story and enjoy the time you spend with your partner and friends in real time in the real world. If everything is distilled through a website, you aren’t making the most of the time you spend together.

A Danish study by the Happiness Research Institute focusing on 1,095 participants found that those who went a week without Facebook reported greater life satisfaction (Happiness Research Institute, 2015). Therefore, it is important to cut back on your social media usage.

While social media can be a great way to connect with those we haven’t seen in a while and keep in contact with family, co-workers, and friends, it can have some negative side effects, especially when it comes to our romantic lives. Be conscious of how you engage with social media and use it sparingly. Avoid focusing too much on the past and live your life with your current partner in a meaningful way, and not for the purpose of a “perfect” post.


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

Happiness Research Institute (2015). The Facebook experiment: Does social media affect the quality of our lives? Retrieved from b728cde7d61b13e7.pdf

Houghton, D., Joinson, A., Caldwell, N., & Marder, B. (2013). Tagger's delight? Disclosure and liking in Facebook: The effects of sharing photographs amongst multiple known social circles. Retrieved from

Marshall, T. C. (2012). Facebook surveillance of former romantic partners: Associations with post breakup recovery and personal growth. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(10), 521-526.

Muise, A., Christofides, E., & Desmarais, S. (2009). More information than you ever wanted: Does Facebook bring out the green eyed monster of jealousy? CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12, 441-444.

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