How to Navigate Social Media Boundaries in a Relationship by Vanessa Marin. See below for details.
As a s_x therapist, I never imagined I’d spend so much time talking about Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.
But a number of my sessions are filled with stories about the ways that social media interferes with my clients’ relationships: things like snooping in a Facebook account, and then agonizing over what to do with suspicious, but not completely incriminating, activity; or ending a new and promising relationship because the person followed their exes on Instagram.
Jordan Gray, a s_x and dating coach, sees these kinds of challenges in his work too.
“It’s so tricky because it is completely uncharted territory,” he said. “Social media accounts have never had this level of market saturation at any other point in human history. That’s inevitably going to bring up some new challenges for people.”
In a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 45 percent of millennial respondents said their social media accounts had had a “major impact” on their relationships.
Most of us are uncomfortable talking about these types of interactions because we worry that social media is too frivolous to argue over, but it is important to recognize that social media brings up real feelings, and those feelings do matter.
Still, navigating social media boundaries doesn’t have to be the colossal struggle we sometimes turn it into.
1. Prioritize Quality Time Without Social Media
The most common social media-related fight I hear from clients is how much time their partners spend on Facebook or Instagram. I hear story after story of couples planning a romantic date night that turns into nothing but chatter about Instagram likes, Twitter favorites and Snapchat views.
The behavior even extends into the bedroom: Clients have told me stories of discreet mid-coitus phone check-ins.
“A cigarette and embrace after s_x has quickly been replaced with a scroll through social media,” said Gillian McCallum, chief executive of Drawing Down the Moon Matchmaking, a British dating website. “Men and women are guilty of reaching for their phone and basking in the glow of their screen rather than the afterglow of lovemaking.”
You should always make your partner feel more important to you than your phone, so dedicate at least 20 minutes a day to spending screen-free time together. (Scrolling through Facebook while watching television won’t cut it.)
Of course, more social media-free time is better, if you can swing it. You may like having all your meals be phone-free (or at least having those phones on silent or in airplane mode). Or try turning off notifications when you’re together.
2. Check In Before You Post
Always prioritize your living, breathing, human partner. This is especially important when it comes to sharing details, photos of the two of you or details of your lives or dates together. Often in relationships, one person is more private than the other, a difference that can lead to fights.
Laurie Davis Edwards, founder of the dating site eFlirt, said that honest conversations about your social-media boundaries early on in a relationship can prevent surprises later. Ask your partner what he does and doesn’t feel comfortable sharing on social media.
This is especially important around major milestones, like when you become “official,” when you get engaged, when you get pregnant and so on.
One easy rule to follow: Ask your partner before sharing anything related to your relationship. Simple questions like, “Are you O.K. with my posting this picture of us on our date night?” can go a long way toward heading off arguments. When there isn’t agreement, Mr. Gray said to err “on the side of the partner who is more private.”
If you find yourself stuck in oversharing mode, Ms. McCallum offered a great reminder. “The volume of photographs of your relationship that you post on Facebook is not indicative of the success or warmth within that relationship,” she said.
“Even in this period of heightened social media use, very solid, strong, happy couples quite often choose to not lay their relationships bare on Facebook.”
3. If You Wouldn’t Do It in Person ...
In the real world, the boundaries we should abide by when we are in a relationship are obvious. But social media can blur those lines, which might lead people to do or say things online that they wouldn’t in real life.
Commenting “niccccce” on your ex’s latest bathing suit photo on Instagram may seem more innocuous than saying it to her face, but it might not come across that way.
Use real-world boundaries as your digital guide. Imagine that your social media behavior is happening in person, with your partner standing right beside you. Would you make that comment or send that message with your partner watching? If you wouldn’t do it in the real world, don’t do it online.
4. Don’t Snoop
Social media also makes it easier to check on your partner’s behavior. You don’t have to don a trench coat, fake mustache and sunglasses to track your partner across town anymore.
You can just grab his phone when he is in the shower. And there’s a lot to find too; for some reason, most of us think our online activity is private, but it’s shockingly easy to find a treasure trove of information.
Some people insist on trading phone passcodes before getting into a committed relationship, or refuse to date someone who won’t share their passwords as “proof” of their fidelity.
It’s easy to feel entitled to see your significant other’s emails, texts and direct messages, assuming that you should be able to if they have nothing to hide. As tempting as it may be, snooping is never a good idea, in the real world or online.
“If you feel the need to snoop on your partner’s online behavior then there’s a bigger conversation that you need to have about your lack of trust in the relationship, or your feelings of internal security in general,” Mr. Gray said.
If the need to follow your partner’s every move is just too great, there is likely something else at work that, once resolved, will help more than giving in to the urge to snoop.
You might consider simply not following each other on social media at all. I have two friends who are a couple. The guy’s social media platform of choice is Twitter; his girlfriend prefers Instagram. They purposefully don’t follow each other.
They trust each other not to do anything inappropriate, and they like not feeling like they’re “checking up” on each other. It’s a good reminder that your social media lives don’t have to converge the same way your real lives do. A little distance is always healthy, in the real world and online.
5. Give Your Partner the Benefit of the Doubt
Even if you innocently stumble across suspicious-seeming activity, try to remember that tone and intent are much harder to gauge online.
Most of us are quick to jump to conclusions with a limited amount of information. This is “what I call storytelling syndrome: When you draw conclusions to decipher what’s happening without first-hand knowledge,” Ms. Edwards said.
“Storytelling syndrome usually escalates and before you know it, you’re convinced they are cheating on you all because of a comment on someone’s post.”
Ask your partner about their intent before making assumptions. For example: “Hey, I saw you’re now friends on Facebook with that girl you told me you hooked up with before we met. How did that happen?”
6. Address Discomfort Quickly
Even with the best intentions, you and your partner are probably going to hurt each other with some of your online behaviors. It’s best to address these episodes quickly and on a case-by-case basis. Address them directly before a pattern develops, or before bad feelings have a chance to fester.
Mr. Gray suggested first taking the time to figure out why you’re upset, rather than focusing on the behavior. What is the underlying issue? Our emotions can give us a lot of information if we let them.
Then talk to your partner, focusing on the why, rather than the specific action. Let your partner know what the real issue is and what you need from them.
For example, you might say, “Hey, I wanted to let you know that I feel uncomfortable seeing that you still have romantic pictures of you and your ex on your Facebook account. It made me worried that you’re not fully over him. Do you think you could delete them?”
Yes, it’s frustrating to acknowledge the profound impact that social media can have on us and our relationships. But remember, even Snapchat can open up some meaningful conversations between partners.
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This article first appeared as How to Navigate Social Media Boundaries in a Relationship by Vanessa Marin. Click on her name to follow her on social media!
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