Social media can enhance romantic relationships and provide valuable opportunities for maintenance. People who share more of their relationships on social media report being happier with their partner, and they also tend to be more committed.
However, these benefits to relationships can come at a cost. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more of our social interactions have shifted onto social media and into the public eye. We’re also using technology to reconnect with old flames. In one recent study from the Kinsey Institute, a striking number of participants (1 in 5) revealed that they had been in touch with an ex during the pandemic. These changes could be contributing to feelings of jealousy in relationships.
Researchers define romantic jealousy as the response to having a valued relationship threatened by a third party. We get jealous when we’re at risk of losing something we care about to a potential rival. When left unmanaged, jealousy can be harmful to relationships and has even been offered as an explanation for the link between Facebook use and divorce.
According to Muise and colleagues, Facebook can be jealousy-inducing because it connects us to a wider network of past and potential romantic partners. Many of us stay friends with our exes on social media, which could threaten our primary relationship. Facebook also exposes us to ambiguous interactions between our partner and others in their network. Because we lack context for interpreting their interactions, imaginations can run wild. In such cases, scrolling through a partner’s posts in an effort to ease our suspicions may actually make matters worse.
As evidence of this last point, Muise et al. proposed that there’s a feedback loop between Facebook use and jealousy. That is, spending more time on Facebook may expose us to jealousy-provoking information, which can lead to even more surveillance of a partner’s page. Although their study focused exclusively on Facebook, it’s likely the results would extend to other platforms with similar features and affordances (for example, Twitter, Instagram).
So what’s the best way to break this cycle? Set limits on your social media use, especially during the pandemic, and avoid the urge to spy on your partner. And if you see something that bothers you, say something. Direct communication with your partner is likely to be more effective for reducing your uncertainty than a deep dive into their social media posts. In the end, the best strategy may also be the simplest: Take a break, and step away from the screen.
Guerrero, L. K., Trost, M. R., & Yoshimura, S. M. (2005). Romantic jealousy: Emotions and communicative responses. Personal Relationships, 12(2), 233-252. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1350-4126.2005.00113.x
Lehmiller, J. (2020, May 6). Have you reached out to or heard from an ex during the pandemic? You’re not alone. Sex & Psychology. https://www.lehmiller.com/blog/2020/5/6/have-you-reached-out-to-or-heard-from-an-ex-during-the-pandemic-youre-not-alone
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(4), 441-444. https://doi.org/10.1089/cpb.2008.0263
Sharabi, L. L., & Hopkins, A. (2021). Picture perfect? Examining associations between relationship quality, attention to alternatives, and couples’ activities on Instagram. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407521991662
Toma, C. L., & Choi, M. (2015). The couple who Facebooks together, stays together: Facebook self-presentation and relationship longevity among college-aged dating couples. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18(7), 367-372. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2015.0060
Valenzuela, S., Halpern, D., & Katz, J. E. (2014). Social network sites, marriage well-being and divorce: Survey and state-level evidence from the United States. Computers in Human Behavior, 36, 94-101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.03.034