Before delving into ways to protect our romantic relationships from the pitfalls of social media, though, let’s acknowledge its potential positives: It can function as a vehicle to help couples stay connected, especially in long-distance relationships; it creates a digital blueprint of special occasions and other memories for you and your partner to cherish; and it allows you to understand your partner in a different way.
“When you are honoring your mate on social media in some way—maybe they got a promotion, competed in a race, or you just want to share how wonderful they are—social media can be fun,” says Tracy Crossley, behavioral relationship expert. “It can also be an opportunity to see another aspect of your mate that you’ve never seen.” For example, a friend of your partner may tag them in a photo from years ago before you even knew them. This may be intriguing to you, because it gives you a chance to see your partner in a new way.
The flip side of social media reflecting a different side of a partner is that the new side may not resonate with you. Perhaps it even reflects a problematic behavior, like micro cheating, or “behavior that is not technically considered cheating, but involves more covert behaviors of secrecy, dishonesty, or emotional-based interactions outside of the relationship,” says Arizona-based professional counselor, Elizabeth Fedrick, PhD, LPC.
“A partner may feel every time they walk in a room, their partner is on social media, as though they can never put their phone down.” —Tracy Crossley, behavioral relationship expert
What constitutes micro cheating on social media depends on the scope of your specific relationship agreement. But, it may take the form of flirting—whether via comments, DMs, or liking certain photos—using suggestive emojis, or spending considerable time engaging in digital interactions that aren’t necessarily inappropriate, but still absorb emotional energy. “A partner may feel every time they walk in a room, their partner is on social media, as though they can never put their phone down,” says Crossley. “This clearly stands in the way of emotional intimacy.”
When someone is scrolling to an extent that they are distracted when spending time with their partner or ignoring them completely, it’s a sign that boundaries might be beneficial. Below, find tips to create healthy boundaries with social media in your relationships.
6 tips to create healthy boundaries with social media in romantic relationships
1. Understand your intentions
Make a list of the reasons why social media matters in your relationship. This will help you identify what your boundaries are, if you don’t know already. Ask yourself why you share and post. Is it because you’re proud of it? Do you typically share other intimate aspects of your life? If you avoid posting your relationship altogether, why? You can also ask your partner the same questions to get their perspective.
Understanding the answers to these questions may help you identify what you value in social media, which will help you and your partner communicate.
2. Signal to your partner that you plan to have a boundaries conversation
It’s important to ensure we don’t catch a partner off guard with a difficult conversation they aren’t in the ideal mental space to have. Dr. Fedrick suggests using one of the options below to begin a hard conversation:
- “There’s something I would like to talk about. Is now a good time?”
- “I think we might have different perspectives about how we use social media. Do you have some time to talk about it?”
- “I was wondering when would be a good time to talk about something that has been bothering me.”
- “I feel hurt when I see you _________ on social media. Are you open to talking through this?”
- “I am struggling with some of the things you have been posting on social media. Would you be willing to explore a compromise on this?”
3. Be open and honest about how you truly feel
Transparent communication creates a sense of assurance and solidarity within a relationship. “It’s crucial that there is not shaming, blaming, attacking, or criticizing during this time in order for effective compromise to be possible,” Dr. Fedrick says.
Address what bothers you about their social media usage by asking open-ended questions. Lean into curiosity rather than rebuking your partner. “When healthy compromise becomes an active part of a relationship, both parties get to feel safe, respected, valued, and, thus, encouraged to make requests and express their perspectives without fear of shame, conflict, or rejection,” she adds.
4. Respect your partner’s social media style
It’s important to remember that a relationship not only includes you but your partner, who might have a completely different way of using social media than you do.
You may be an extroverted person who loves showing the world many aspects of your private life, including your relationship. However, if your partner isn’t the same way, you have to respect their hard limits and adjust the way you reflect your relationship on the public forum.
5. Spend phone-free quality time together
If you feel like your partner gets distracted by social media, suggest doing activities together where phone use is limited, like hiking or a couples spa appointment.
“When you genuinely make an effort to bond, not from insecurity but from love, you end up with better results,” Crossley says. “It is about making a relationship work, not feeling like you have to give up something to have a healthy relationship.”
6. Don’t let appearances matter more than what actually works for you
There’s no official rule book for how a relationship is “supposed to” look, and there’s certainly no rule book on how to couples “should” conduct themselves online. That’s why it’s important to not get caught up in the optics of a situation and to create your boundaries based on what works for you and your partner.
“Unfortunately, people read a lot into social media and often give it more meaning than it deserves,” Crossley says. “Their relationship in real life is much more important than how it might appear.”
Needless to say, there are many factors that can help and hurt your relationship satisfaction, and social media is just one of them. However, being open and honest about your feelings and boundaries will go a long way.