Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Social Networking

How Your Social Media Habits Are Damaging Your Relationships

Are your social media activities causing real-life problems?

Key points

  • Individuals are spending more time than ever on screens and electronic devices.
  • How people engage in social media can negatively impact real-life relationships with themselves and others.
  • It's important to take steps to manage one's social media engagement and care for important relationships.

We’ve all participated in or witnessed social disconnection in action… people gathered together, with gazes fixed on screens rather than interacting with one another. Screens and social media have become a part of everyday life. Social media, at its best, has provided us with many ways to connect, interact and expand our social networks exponentially. In 2022, on average, people spent 152 minutes a day on social networking… slightly higher than the previous year’s 147-minute average.

Clearly, social media is on the rise. Not just how much, but where, when, and how we engage in social media could be negatively impacting our real-life relationships. Our relationships matter. Our deep connections and close social and romantic relationships with others are key to our happiness and longevity.

What’s the problem?

Though social media has become a part of our regular lives, in terms of our awareness of and our ability to manage the impacts of social media on our relationships—our relationships with the people in our lives and with ourselves—we have some catching up to do.

“Social Media Use and Its Impact on Relationships and Emotions” (Christensen, Spencer Palmer), a 2018 Brigham Young University study, found that: “the more time an individual spent on social media, the more likely they were to experience a negative impact on their overall emotional well-being and a decreased quality in their relationships.” The study also found that social media use negatively impacted interpersonal relationships due to: “distraction, irritation, and decreased quality time with their significant other in offline settings” and that participants reported increased “frustration, depression, and social comparison” related to their engagement in social media.

Driving intimate partner disconnection

According to a 2019 Pew Research Center study, 51 percent of people in a committed relationship reported that their partner is: “often or sometimes distracted by their cellphone while they are trying to have a conversation with them, and 4 in 10 say they are at least sometimes bothered by the amount of time their partner spends on their mobile device.”

Besides the disconnection resulting from screen distractions, partners can often feel threatened by real or imagined online third parties, including rekindled connections to former partners, habitual engagement with social media influencers, and habitual use of online pornography. These forms of engagement can lead to insecurities, an erosion of trust, and relationship breakdowns.

Feelings of low self-worth

Although it is not unheard of for people to share their struggles and hard times on their social media platforms, most people present an upbeat, curated—and sometimes highly filtered and photoshopped—that is to say, unrealistic—version of their lives to their online followers. “The Effects of Active Social Media Engagement with Peers on Body Image in Young Women” by Jacqueline Hogue and Jennifer S Mills, a 2019 York University body image study, concluded that comparisons “may lead to increased body concerns in young women.” When we compare ourselves to people with out-of-reach lifestyles, career success, beauty, or wealth, these comparisons can lead to feelings of low self-esteem and hopelessness.

It is important that we build awareness of how our social media habits impact our relationships—with ourselves and the people we care about—and that we take steps to manage and take care of our time, our energy, and our real-life relationships.

7 steps to creating healthier social media habits

If your online life is negatively impacting your relationships…

Listen to what the people in your life are saying to you about your social media habits. Observe their reactions to your decreased interactions.

Build awareness about your social media habits and engagement. Make an effort to track the amount of time you spend online for a week.

Create healthy boundaries around your online activities if you find you are spending too much time on social media. Scheduling brief times throughout the day to engage in social media and silencing notifications from social media apps could be a healthy first step in curbing over-engagement.

Put some distance between you and your devices daily. Go out for dinner, watch a movie, take a walk, or meet up with friends and leave your devices behind.

Prioritize your real-life relationships. Make an effort to stay mindful of how your actions and presence impact other people, and be engaged in person with friends, colleagues, and family members.

Unfollow unhealthy, unrealistic, attention-seeking social media influencers. Social media “models” and lifestyle influencers often present a false sense of who they are and set unrealistic goals and aspirations that can negatively impact your sense of self-worth or the self-worth of your partner.

Seek the help of a mental health professional if your social media engagement has led to feelings of low self-worth or depression or if your social media usage has become unmanageable.

More from Monica Vermani C. Psych.
More from Psychology Today