Could Using Social Media Lead to Romantic Disconnection?
New research points to a possible downside of frequent social media use.
Posted June 27, 2022 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
- Some prior research has found a link between social media use and disputes in romantic relationships related to social media.
- Prior studies haven't differentiated between different kinds of social media engagement, which may have led to discrepancies in results.
- A new study revealed that active social media usage is linked to relationship strain, which is also linked to less relationship contentment.
- One can't say that social media use causes relationship tension, but discussions about social media use with a partner may still be useful.
If I told you that social media is widespread, your mind would probably go foggy wondering why I’m saying something so obvious. But if I told you that social media might undermine your relationship with your romantic partner, would that seem just as self-evident?
A team of researchers just released a study to examine this question by looking at the link between active engagement on three social media sites and relationship well-being. In outlining their reason for pursuing this line of inquiry, they highlighted two reasons.
First, they pointed to study results that have revealed a link between the use of social media and relationship problems expressly connected to it, such as arguments over using Instagram. The researchers wanted to not only duplicate these findings but to expand on them by looking at the link between social media and experiences in a romantic relationship more broadly, such as strain and contentment in a relationship.
Second, the researchers noted some discrepancies in relationship research regarding people’s usage of social media and how their relationships are faring. They noted that such discrepancies could stem from lumping different ways of using social media together and not differentiating between more involved, active forms of engagement and a more uninvolved, passive way of using social media.
The research team included a group of over 200 college students who said they had a Facebook, an Instagram, and a Twitter account; they also asked about people's active engagement with these sites (as opposed to simply scrolling), the degree of stress in their relationship, and how content they are with their partner.
The research team found that the extent to which people engaged with Twitter and Instagram was linked to the level of stress they experienced with their partner. On top of this, they also found that the stress people felt in their relationship was connected to lower contentment with their partner, and this was true for both Instagram and Twitter engagement, but not for Facebook usage.
Why didn’t the same results seem to apply to Facebook? The researchers speculated that the way they obtained study participants may have been a factor, as they enrolled college students who dedicated more time to Instagram and Twitter than to Facebook. In a related vein, the researchers also pointed out that because they enlisted people for the study who were mainly members of Generation Z, this doesn’t make it possible to determine whether these results also apply to people who are members of other generations (e.g., Millenials, Generation X, Baby Boomers).
Likewise, they rightly mentioned that we also can’t actually say whether social media engagement causes stress with a partner or decreases happiness with them, as the design of the study (i.e., based on correlations) won’t allow us to do that. However, the researchers also correctly called attention to the fact that their results build on past research and suggest that there is a link between social media engagement and the well-being of the relationship.
What This Means for Your Relationship
Bearing in mind the constraints around this research, how could you use this information if you wished to do so? Is the answer to cast aside social media?
Not necessarily. If you feel comfortable with your relationship with social media and feel that your engagement with it is a positive, enjoyable slice of your life, there's no clear reason to change things.
But if you’re wondering whether your engagement with social media might be impacting your connection with your partner, consider having a conversation with your partner about it. Who knows? Perhaps it might open the door to learning there’s no issue for your partner in this regard or to making some healthy adjustments that may be good for both of you.
Delle, F. A., Clayton, R. B., Jordan Jackson, F. F., & Lee, J. (2022, June 9). Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: Simultaneously
examining the association between three social networking sites and relationship stress and satisfaction. Psychology of
Popular Media. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000415