How romantic relationships can be affected by what we share online

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Moya Crockett
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What we share (or don’t share) on social media can dent our relationship satisfaction – but there is an easy way to fix it. 

My partner and I have very different relationships with social media. I spend what could politely be described as too much time on Instagram, could easily talk you through the most explosive Twitter argument of the day, and regularly check Facebook for event invitations and viral articles. Sometimes social media makes me feel stressed, sad and envious; at other times it makes me laugh, learn and connect with others. But for better or worse, it’s an integral part of my life.

As a result, I post about my boyfriend on social media. Not loads, not constantly: my feeds aren’t filled with date-night selfies, boasts about ‘the boy’ having ‘done good’, or teary rants about arguments we’ve had. But I might tweet something funny he’s said, or post the odd photo of him on Instagram (always accompanied by a sarcastic caption, just in case anyone thinks I’ve turned into a smug loser – which, to be fair, is probably spectacularly irritating in its own special way). He’s a big part of my life, and I document (some of) my life on social media. So it feels natural to post about him.

My significant other, in contrast, is not tangled in the weeds of social media. He has never had a Twitter account, and responds to my breathless stories about political tweetstorms, influencer backlashes and celebrities being ‘cancelled’ with affable indifference. His friends haven’t posted photos on Facebook since about 2014. He uses Instagram to follow accounts about nature, science and art, and will occasionally share a caption-free picture of the sky, but that’s it. Apart from on Facebook, where we appear in a handful of tagged photos together, I do not feature on his social media feeds at all. 

I’m not troubled by this, because it’s not as if he’s deliberately trying to hide me away: he just doesn’t share much of anything about his life online. But if he started using Twitter, Facebook or Instagram regularly, posting photos and revealing anecdotes about friends and food and work and family and parties, and still never mentioned me? Yeah, I think that would bother me. I think that would get under my skin.

According to new research, that’s not surprising. Over the course of five studies, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Kansas examined how different circumstances can affect how a partner perceives their loved one’s habits of sharing information online. They found that when one half of a couple frequently shares personal information with large groups of friends and followers on social media, it can negatively impact their partner’s satisfaction and feelings of intimacy in the relationship.

She couldn’t help but wonder why her girlfriend’s Instagram consisted solely of Ariana Grande memes 

The research suggests that people may feel left out or see themselves as less special if their partners constantly share intimate details of their lives on social media, which makes sense. If you’re in a serious relationship, it’s reasonable to assume that you know your partner better than most – so it’s understandable that you might feel a little surplus to requirements if they’re regularly sharing their most private thoughts and innermost feelings with their 4,000 followers.

But the researchers also discovered an easy way for prolific social media users to stop their partners feeling left out. If you regularly share details about your life online, they say, just remember to also post about the person you’re in a relationship with.

“When you include a significant other in your post, perhaps as confirming a relationship status online or posting a photo together, we found that it counters the negative effects of online disclosure, increasing the feelings of intimacy and satisfaction,” explained Omri Gillath, a professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, who co-authored the study.

“This validates the relationship, and a partner likely would see their significant other’s post as caring and inclusive.”

If you regularly share details about your life online, occasionally posting about your partner is likely to make them feel good

Dr Juwon Lee, a post-doctoral researcher in Carnegie Mellon’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said that it’s vital that researchers investigate how our online habits may affect IRL relationships.

“For many of us, sharing our feelings and daily experiences on social media is one of the main ways we stay in contact with friends and family,” she said.

“Because of this cultural shift from face-to-face or phone conversations, it’s important that we understand how our usage of these technologies affects our personal relationships.”

Ultimately, you’re not obligated to post anything online that you don’t want to. But if you’re in a relationship and like to share snapshots of your life on social media, occasionally including your partner in the picture is likely to make them feel good (unless they’ve specifically asked you not to). If you prefer to keep your online presence more private, feel free to extend that privacy to your partner.

And if you’re happily single? Go ahead and post whatever and whoever you want – because chances are, your friends will be happy to see whatever you’re up to. 

Images: Getty Images / Pexels