Does Social Media Help or Hurt Relationships?

Have you and a partner ever fought about Internet use?

Posted Jul 20, 2015

Source: NotarYES/Shutterstock

Why is it that some couples happily and openly share and view each other’s social media statuses, while others find this very difficult? Do we use social media to get to know each other better, or does it just fuel our suspicion?

There is much research evidence to suggest that excessive use of the Internet by one partner in a relationship can negatively affect relationship quality. Kerkhof, Finkenauer and Muusses reported (2011) that in relationships where there was excessive Internet use by one partner, there was also more partner conflict. The reason might be due to one partner feeling excluded by the other's excessive time online. Or it could be that excessive Internet use may be perceived as a gesture of concealment or an inability to share. 

A recent study by Clayton, Nagurney, & Smith (2013) explores whether use of Facebook can result in negative relationship outcomes. The researchers hypothesized that excessive Facebook use by one partner may be detrimental to a relationship, resulting in "Facebook-related conflict."

The study measured:

  1. Facebook Usage—how often an individual used Facebook and how often they viewed their friends’ profiles.
  2. Facebook-Related Conflict—whether Facebook use makes relationship complications more likely between intimate partners, examined by questions such as, "How often do you have an argument with your partner as a result of Facebook use or viewing the profiles of your friends?"
  3. Negative Relationship Outcomes—whether Facebook use can have an effect on the propensity for infidelity or relationship dissolution, assessed with questions such as, "Have you cheated on your partner with someone through whom you have connected with Facebook?"

The participants in the study were 205 Facebook users, 144 of whom reported being currently in a romantic relationship. Consistent with previous research, it was found that there was a correlation between Facebook use and Facebook-related conflict. Further, it was found that there was a relationship between Facebook-related conflict and negative relationship outcomes. 

Is relationship length a factor?

Clayton, et al (2013) then examined the length of time the people in their study had been in a relationship. Those who reported being in a relationship for 36 months or less were placed in the shorter relationship group; those who had been in a relationship for longer than 36 months were placed in the longer relationship group. For the shorter length group, Facebook usage predicted Facebook-related conflict, which in turn predicted negative relationship outcomes. For the longer length relationship group, however, there was no correlation between any of the measures used.   

Facebook, then, seems to be an issue solely for those in newer relationships: The same findings did not hold for those in relationships of longer than 3 years. Only people who had been in relationships for 3 years or less experienced negative relationship outcomes as a result of Facebook-related conflict. 

An earlier study by Elphinston & Noller (2011), which examined Facebook use by people in relationships, found that Facebook surveillance behavior by either partner was related to relationship dissatisfaction. Furthermore, Tokunaga (2011) noted that online surveillance strategies are more likely to be used by younger individuals, who may have been in shorter relationships. While it could be argued that Facebook surveillance may be used to get to know a new partner better, it can equally be possible that Facebook surveillance might provoke feelings of romantic jealousy, especially when the information posted is ambiguous.

Overall, then, it appears that because relationships of 3 years and under may be undeveloped to some extent, partners experience a greater amount of suspicion as a result of the other’s Facebook use. There are other factors to consider, however, such as personality type and self-esteem, which probably also play a part in Facebook-related conflict.


  • Clayton, R. B., Nagurney, A., & Smith, J. R. (2013) Cheating, Breakup, and Divorce: Is Facebook Use to Blame? Cyberpsychology, behaviour and Social Networking, 16(10), 717-720.
  • Elphinston, R.A. & Noller P. (2011) Time to face it! Facebook intrusion and the implications for romantic jealousy and relationship satisfaction. CyberPsychology, Behavior, & Social Networking, 14, 631–5.
  • Kerkhof P, Finkenauer C, & Muusses L.D. (2011) Relational consequences of compulsive Internet use: a longitudinal study among newlyweds. Human Communication Research, 37, 147–73.
  • Tokunaga, R.S. (2011) Social networking site or social surveillance site? Understanding the use of interpersonal electronic surveillance in romantic relationships. Computers in Human Behaviour, 27,705–13.

Visit my website and follow me on Twitter @martingraff007