9 Ways the Internet Can Be Toxic for Your Relationship

Surprising challenges to even the healthiest partnerships are often overlooked.

Posted Dec 23, 2014

How exactly does the Internet hurt relationship development and maintenance? Might the web be potentially dangerous for even the healthiest of relationships? The following list outlines some primary ways Internet connection can complicate romantic relationships.

1. Too many choices. Finding the perfect partner is a critical relationship hurdle, and online dating sites offer an appealingly wide assortment of potential partners. Sometimes, however, more choices create more problems. People flounder when encountering a large choice set of potential partners and ultimately make choices that are less aligned with their ideal mate preferences (Finkel, Eastwick, Karney, Reis, & Sprecher, 2012). There’s also some reason to suspect that happiness with partner choice might be less when the options are so many.

2. Online dating brings people together, but usually not forever. Some couples will meet online and live happily ever after, but the general pattern suggests otherwise. It turns out that marriage is more often an outcome for couples who meet offline than those who meet online (Paul, 2014).  Couples who meet online also suffer more breakups and divorces compared to those whose relationships started offline. These data underscore the need for careful discernment during the dating process. If you’re looking to date, the Internet might be a great start, but if you’re looking for long-term love, engaging in offline pursuits may be a more successful strategy.

3. Facebook use predicts romantic jealousy. Spending time on Facebook may seem like a harmless pastime, but it actually predicts a variety of negative relationship experiences, including jealousy. Jealousy can be lethal in relationships, undermining trust and lessening positive relationship behaviors. Individuals who report a greater attachment to Facebook tend to be less satisfied in their romantic relationships, potentially because Facebook use promotes jealous thoughts and feelings (Elphinston & Noller, 2011).

4. Partner monitoring and surveillance. With social-networking sites, people have new ways to keep track of their romantic partner, an ease of surveillance that may create unhealthy habits. According to recent research (Muise, Christofides, & Desmarais, 2014), when women feel jealous, they spend more time searching their partner’s Facebook profile, possibly seeking information to confirm or deny their suspicions. Partner monitoring is particularly heightened for individuals with anxious attachment.

5. The path to infidelity and break-ups. Facebook and other social-networking websites can provide new sources of conflict that hurt relationship well-being. For example, couples can argue about excessive Facebook use or viewing of others’ profiles. Recent evidence shows that not only does regular Facebook use predict negative outcomes like infidelity and break-ups, but this link is explained by Facebook-related conflict (Clayton, Nagurney, & Smith, 2013).  In other words, Facebook introduces a new source of conflict that can adversely impact relationships.

6. Beware of the Tweet. Not all couples communicate via Twitter, but those who do open up a new medium for potential conflict. Clayton (2014) showed that active Twitter use can translate to Twitter-related conflict for romantic partners, and in turn, such conflict can generate negative relationship outcomes. Specifically, Twitter-related conflict predicts cheating behavior and relationship break-up and divorce.

7. The ex-factor. While online technology has been praised for its ability to connect people, sometimes, it’s better to stay disconnected. Evidence shows that people who receive Facebook invitations from ex-partners and accept them tend to be more depressed and anxious than those who receive requests but ignore them (Tsai, Shen, & Chiang, 2014). Men in these situations tend to be particularly depressed, even more so than women. In sum, the very goal of social networking (to connect people) can make it challenging to focus on new relationship opportunities.

8. Getting over relationships is faster offline. Break-ups can be devastating, causing considerable emotional distress. Recovery, or adjustment, is a process of rebuilding the self separate from the former partner, and it occurs at different speeds and in different ways for different people. Recent evidence shows that better adjustment occurs when relationship break-ups have no, or minimal, Facebook impact (LeFebvre, Blackburn, & Brody, 2014). In other words, engaging in Facebook behavior linked to the former relationship may have impeded an ability to move on. Given the access to an ex that Facebook offers, this finding makes sense: better to stay off of Facebook through the adjustment process.

9. The danger of new Facebook friends. When your partner solicits or accepts new friend requests from people who might harbor romantic interests, that signals to you that your partner has low relationship commitment (Drouin, Miller, & Dibble, 2014).

What’s next?

Knowing the ways in which the Internet may complicate your relationship can arm you with strategies for keeping its effects at bay. It seems that moderate use of Facebook is preferable to excessive use, as the latter seems conducive to relationship conflict, unhealthy partner surveillance, and jealousy.

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References

Clayton, R. B. (2014). The third wheel: The impact of Twitter use on relationship infidelity and divorce. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. Advanced online publication.

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.

Drouin, M., Miller, D. A., & Dibble, J. L. (2014). Ignore your partners’ current Facebook friends; beware the ones they add! Computers in Human Behavior, 35, 483-488.

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.

Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S. (2012). Online dating: A critical analysis from the perspective of psychological science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(1), 3-66.

LeFebvre, L., Blackburn, K., & Brody, N. (2014). Navigating romantic relationships on Facebook Extending the relationship dissolution model to social networking environments. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Advanced online publication.

Muise, A., Christofides, E., & Desmarais, S. (2014). “Creeping” or just information seeking? Gender differences in partner monitoring in response to jealousy on Facebook. Personal Relationships, 21(1), 35-50.

Paul, A. (2014). Is online better than offline for meeting partners? Depends: are you looking to marry or to date?. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17(10), 664-667.

Tsai, C. W., Shen, P. D., & Chiang, Y. C. (2014). Meeting ex-partners on Facebook: users' anxiety and severity of depression. Behaviour & Information Technology, Advanced online publication.

Photo credit: Kena Sen