Relationships: is social media fuelling discontent in our relationships?

How social media is changing the way we see our relationships

Posted by for Life

Exclusive new research commissioned by Stylist has revealed that 40% of women feel that seeing relationships as they’re portrayed on social media makes them less happy with their own. 

“Comparison is the thief of joy”. This quote, attributed to former US president Theodore Roosevelt, has resonated with generations of people for its simple truth – comparing ourselves to others will always lead us to judge (and criticise) ourselves.

But in 2020, this quote feels particularly relevant. In a world dominated by the presence of social media, the impulse to compare and contrast our lives with those portrayed on our screens is stronger than ever. From our body image to our social calendars, social media has become an often-negative influence on the way we see ourselves. And it’s affecting our relationships with other people, too.

According to exclusive new research commissioned by Stylist, more than one in three women believe that the way relationships are portrayed on social media makes them feel less happy with their own relationship.

The survey, which questioned women between the ages of 25-40 about their media consumption habits and mental health, revealed that 40% of women feel less happy about their relationships as a direct result of the content they see shared on social media, with 40% also saying that they felt more anxious after spending time on platforms such as Instagram or Facebook.

And that’s not the only way social media is having an impact on our relationships. The research also revealed that 48% of women haven’t pursued a relationship or don’t want to have sex because of their low self-esteem – a problem caused and perpetuated by comparison on social media.

The relationships we see on social media are rarely portrayed in a realistic light.
What happens if one person owns a home while the other still rents in a new relationship?

“It’s natural for us to compare ourselves to others and human beings have always done it. What’s not natural, however, is for us to know highly curated details about the thousands of people that we follow online,” explains Chloe Brotheridge, a hypnotherapist and coach at “Even though we ‘know’ that social media only gives us the highlights of someone’s life, it still plants a seed in our minds that our lives or relationships are not as good in comparison.”

She continues: “I often recommend that my clients unfollow people who spark negative emotions and try to have boundaries about how often they’re logging on. Regular breaks and digital detoxes from social media can also be helpful so that we can switch off and recalibrate what is real life and what is curated.”

The fact of the matter is, despite all the images and information we may be fed on social media, no relationship is ever perfect – because perfection doesn’t exist. 

However much we enjoy our time online, it’s important that we continue to challenge the images we see on social media, unfollow those accounts that are having a negative effect on our mental health and challenge the ‘perfection’ of social media by avoiding posting unrealistic photos of our own. At the end of the day, social media is what we make it: and it’s about time we saw some change.

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For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Love Women series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women – which we will be using going forward.

Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers.

1. We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.

2. We will ensure that we never sell an impossible dream. We believe in aspiration, but not in selling a lie. We will work with influencers, celebrities and other partners to encourage them to reveal their truths, too.

3. We will celebrate the so-called flaws of women to prove the normality in all of our bodies. We will run videos, photoshoots and honest accounts of our bodies and how they behave.

4. We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals

5. Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.

Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.

Images: Getty

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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