Navigating Social Media – Without Sinking your Relationship
Bethesda MD Couples Therapy
When I started my career as a therapist, social media did not exist (well, it was not nearly so sophisticated or prevalent). Now social media is the center of how people communicate and interact. Because of this there are now articles and classes that address social media and the influence it has on your psyche, culture, and even relationships. Without a doubt, social media has become a common topic when meeting with couples because of the challenges that arise from navigating the complexities of a relationship in the public forum that is social media. What has become apparent is the need for couples to discuss boundaries on social media as well as the meaning they attribute to how their relationship is presented by their partner on social media.
One major challenge that couples discuss are their partner’s interactions with people of the opposite sex (or same sex in same-sex relationships) on social media. A member of a couple can easily feel threatened by the conversations and interactions in which they see their partner engaging. What should you think when someone reacts to your significant other’s photo or a post with a heart emoji? Or, perhaps, you find your partner exchanging dialogue with the same person repeatedly. Additionally, many people are connected to former boyfriends/girlfriends, spouses, or lovers on social media adding an additional concern for those who may worry about the old flame not being completely extinguished.
The most important thing you can do to address this is to, up front, let your partner know who you are comfortable with them interacting with on social media and in what manner (and vice versa). You may feel your spouse is overreacting by asking you not to respond to someone who comments a lot on their accounts, however, take into account that what starts as simple dialogue can turn into a flirtation quickly. I hate to say how much I have heard of this happening – conversation leading to flirtation leading to infidelity – this is an unnecessary and preventable threat to even the strongest relationships. Boundaries you and your partner decide on can range from who you associate with, what you post, and how you respond. Perhaps the best thing you can do is to be completely open and transparent about who you are connected with and the communication you have with others. There is no better way to build and sustain trust than complete honesty and transparency!
Another concern that is often discussed is the presentation of relationship and declaration of love through social media. Maybe some of the older generations reading this find this a foreign concept (I did at first!), however the younger generations put a lot of meaning into how their partner does, or does not, acknowledge them in this public forum. We all want to feel safe and secure in our relationships – if your partner refuses to put their status as “in a relationship,” what does that mean? Does that mean that they want to still be seen as a single person? Or, what does it mean if your spouse never posts pictures of you or the two of you together? All of these questions have been asked in my office – and have been discussed readily. What the ultimate goal is – if you want your relationship to be strong – is to reassure and show your partner that they are loved in everyday life. Does this mean acknowledging it on social media? Maybe. All of us have to learn that our significant other’s feelings should not be dismissed – hearing and understanding is central to navigating these challenges and leads to a stronger relationship no matter what is happening on social media.
I do not believe the complexities of relationships in the digital age will get any simpler. What I do believe is that we all need to come out from behind our screens and have honest conversations about our needs and fears – and be heard by our significant other. This will be the only way that relationships can be sustained while still navigating the uncharted and sometimes dangerous waters of social media.
Kara Smith, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy at our downtown Bethesda location. Call or email today to set up an appointment or complimentary telephone consultation with Kara!