Young couples are fighting over a topic their parents never even considered

ShutterstockBut it’s not all bad news.
  • Young couples are increasingly fighting about social media use.
  • Sometimes one partner is more private than the other, or sometimes one partner is concerned that their partner is following an ex on social media.
  • Yet research also suggests that social media can help bring couples together.

In the days when I was single and dating, I used to do this thing where I’d refuse to tell my friends the name of the guy I was currently seeing. Instead I’d give him code names like, say, “X” or “the doctor.” The logic being, of course, that if I gave him a concrete identity, I’d “jinx” any chance of the romance blossoming into something lasting.

Weird, I know. But my general philosophy – even today – is not to spend too much time gushing about how great my life is, as though I’m extending a direct invitation to Disaster. Which is why I’m hard pressed to imagine being in a serious relationship with someone who lives to find the perfect Instagram filter through which to flaunt our comings and goings.

This imagined rift between partners who approach relationships and social media differently is, as it turns out, a very real thing. I recently spoke to Rachel Sussman, a relationship expert and marriage counselor in New York City, and she cited social media use as a growing source of concern among the couples she sees.

The last five years, Sussman said, have brought a big spike in the number of social-media-related problems, which typically come from couples in their 20s and 30s. Specifically, one person might complain “that their life is plastered all over social media.”

Indeed, Vanessa Marin, a psychotherapist specializing in sex therapy, wrote in The New York Times that “[o]ften in relationships, one person is more private than the other, a difference that can lead to fights.”

Yet other complaints Sussman hears extend beyond the domain of over-sharing. For example, one partner might think the other is addicted to their phone. Or, jealousy might arise if one person is following a ton of models on Instagram or staying in touch with an ex on social media.

It’s hard to say that social media is universally bad or good for romantic relationships

Meanwhile, research on the role of social media in romantic relationships has hardly yielded straightforward conclusions.

A 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center found that 45% of millennials in relationships say the internet has had an impact on their relationship, compared to 10% of adults 65 and older. But that “impact” isn’t necessarily destructive: 74% of people who said the internet has had an impact on their relationship said the impact was positive; 20% said it was negative; and 4% said it was both good and bad.

And a 2015 study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking found that undergrad, heterosexual couples who post more about their relationships on Facebook are more committed to each other and more likely to stay together. (The researchers say they ruled out the possibility that couples who posted on Facebook were more committed to each other in the first instance.)

Two studies did find that conflict over Twitter and Facebook usage was related to relationship issues – yet as Amanda Hess at Slate pointed out, those issues would probably exist anyway. Social media may simply provide another platform for problematic behaviours to take place.

In the New York Times article, Marin suggests checking in with your partner before sharing anything about them on social media. And as for people who are suspicious about their partner’s social media activity, Marin recommends not “snooping” – and possibly not even following your partner on social media at all.

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