The Surprising Way Social Media Boosts Romantic Commitment

Does declaring your commitment online increase it in the real world?

Posted Jul 31, 2015

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Nykonchuk Oleksii/Shutterstock
Source: Nykonchuk Oleksii/Shutterstock

Keeping a partner committed and connected are important considerations for any long-term relationship. I have previously discussed reasons why a partner might avoid commitment and what you can do about it, as well as general strategies to keep a mate faithful. Many of these strategies involve making the most of joint activities, common interests, and interdependent needs. For example, although it is a bit cliché, the couple that prays together really does stay together.

Given that, I was curious about what other activities and techniques might increase feelings of commitment and help make a romantic relationship last. What persuasion principles could be brought into the mix? As it turned out, the research pointed to a somewhat unlikely solution—interacting on Facebook.

Yes, despite some of the reported negative effects that computer-mediated communication may have on social relationships, there is a way to use Facebook to make your primary relationship stronger. In other words, making things "Facebook official" with your boyfriend, girlfriend, or lover could be a tactic for creating lasting love.

How Facebook Can Improve Your Relationship

Researchers Toma and Choi (2015) explored the connection between partners' shared Facebook activities, feelings of commitment, and the longevity of their relationship. They asked both male and female university students, who were currently dating someone, to fill out a questionnaire measuring their feelings of relationship commitment and to share their Facebook page activity. Specifically, the researchers measured whether participants were listed as "in a relationship," the number of shared couple photographs, the amount of Facebook wall posts to and from the partner, and the number of shared friends and social networks. Participants were contacted six months later for an update on the status of their relationship.

Analysis by Toma and Choi (2015) indicated that some of a participant's Facebook activities did influence their feelings of commitment—and the longevity of their relationship. Specifically, participants who listed their status as "in a relationship," who shared pictures of themselves with their partner on their page, who posted on their partner's wall, and who had multiple affiliations with their partner felt more committed to them. In turn, that feeling of commitment also increased the probability that the couple was still together at the six-month follow-up. Subsequent path analysis supported the notion that the Facebook behaviors drove the commitment and longevity effects, too. In other words, participants felt committed only after they shared relationship status, pictures, and posts—rather than feeling committed first and sharing second.

Public Commitment Theory and Relationship Behaviors

At first glance, the results might seem odd. After all, we usually assume that feelings come first and behaviors second. So we might predict that a partner would feel committed first and then do all sorts of sweet things as a result—like share pictures and posts on Facebook.

In fact, however, emotions often come about as a result of behaviors instead. This process is known by many names—self-perception, self-presentation, public commitment, commitment consistency, internalization, etc. Essentially, though, people sometimes perform behaviors simply to present themselves well to others. As time passes, however, their internal feelings change to match those external behaviors. This happens because people generally want their external behaviors and internal feelings to agree and be consistent. As a result, public behaviors that suggest a loving feeling or shared commitment eventually increase our actual, private feelings too.

This behavior-changes-feelings influence process occurs in romantic relationships quite frequently. For example, in addition to the Facebook effects above, professional matchmakers also use public choices and declarations of interest to influence feelings of commitment. Similarly, repeated investment in a partner eventually increases feelings of love and attachment, too. Expressing gratitude for a partner's behaviors increases a person's internal feeling of gratitude as well.

Conclusion

Overall, if you want a partner to feel more committed to you, then get them to publicly declare your relationship or "claim" you in some way. Send them a prompt to make it "Facebook official." Share a picture and have them link and like it. Get them to write on your wall, or join a common affiliation online which will be seen by others. The more they behaviorally identify you as a partner, and you jointly as a couple, the more they will actually feel committed, too. This internalized feeling of commitment will give you both a greater chance of staying together as well.

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References

  • 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, 367-372.

© 2015 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.