“Where would we be without modern technology?” I often ask myself. Remember when you had to drive up to a bank ATM to check your balance? Or even before then (I’m showing my age, I suppose), when you had to go into the bank and ask a teller to print out a balance statement by way of some enormous, mysterious computer whirring away in the back?
Now, everything seems to be a mouse-click or a phone-screen swipe away. Things are quicker and more immediately accessible than ever. And we are more connected than ever…
Or are we?
Social Media and Relationships: Are You Over-Sharing?
We are certainly more connected than ever with the minute-to-minute passage of events happening in the world. We are more connected with our accounts, our data, our information.
But are we more connected with each other? I’m not referring to the pictorial, fragmented way that Twitter and Facebook afford (and I’m not knocking them…I use both), but in the deep, thoughtful, unhurried way that allows us to really get to know one another, that allows us to see people as more than superficial facts (i.e., relationship status, birthdays, pics of pretty meals).
Where do social media and relationships intersect?
Social media is here to stay, which means it’s important to explore the impact of social media on marriage and committed relationships.
We can’t deny that today’s ever-evolving, ever-more-rapid technology has made our lives more convenient in some ways. But the constant clamor and pull of micro-data is taking a toll in other ways.
(Which is why, when the few brave among us—and I’m not brave enough yet!—who make the commitment to attend a tech-free retreat, or who just unplug from all media streams for a few days often report an uncomfortable, sometimes anxiety-inducing withdrawal period at the outset, but then experience a kind of tranquility that eluded them while they were busy shrinking the world down to 140-character snippets and keeping up with everyone else’s updates.)
Although most of us have become accustomed to managing the thousands of images and bits of data that hurtle toward us each day, science tells us that the human brain is not wired for that type of neural multi-tasking overload. We’re getting things a bit backward…
And despite all the time and mental energy the upkeep of your social media requires, does it really foster interpersonal growth? You may have ten thousand friends on Facebook, but how many of those are friends in the sense that we used to define “friends” (before the dawn of Facebook)?
The reason it’s sometimes easier to broadcast to many than to share deeply with a very few…
This superficial skimming of interpersonal dynamics has created a phenomenon that some people in committed relationships fall into without really noticing: over-sharing when you shouldn’t and under-sharing when you should.
When we’re sitting at our computer or our phone, ready to tell our friends or followers what’s on our mind, we feel safely alone (and we may be literally alone in the room), and yet we feel listened to by others (we assume at least some of the people on the receiving end will read what we say). It’s an odd paradox, a uniquely modern mix.
It used to be that when we delivered information, we’d either see the person we were sharing with (which meant we’d see their reaction and therefore we tended to think carefully about what we were about to say), or we’d be speaking to them on the phone and also have an immediacy of live, one-on-one response. But now, when we say one thing that’s on our minds and send it off to potentially hundreds of people (or more!), we don’t witness their reaction to our “news.” In many cases, this makes us feel freer to share things we wouldn’t have before.
This type of instant, ubiquitous “sharing” can be problematic when it comes to intimate relationships.
You’ve probably heard the adage: “Say it and forget it, write it and regret it.”
If you’re boiling up over an argument you just had with your spouse or partner, and you just have to tell someone, often it’s more logistically doable to Facebook it than it would be to make plans with a trusted friend to vent in person. It’s easy to forget that sharing on Facebook might feel personal and private to you (you’re at your own computer, after all!), but in actuality, you’re sending your words out to many, many people, some of whom you may not have even met.
As a colleague of mine ( Laura Hull, LMFT) so aptly observed: “If you were in a room with 300 people you know, would you stand up in front of the group and say, ‘My gosh, my husband is such a jerk! All I want is for him to clean up his mess…..guess who’s not getting any tonight?’?” (Laura was the inspiration for this article, by the way. Thanks for the excellent topic, Laura!)
When we feel wronged, we naturally seek validation from others to tell us that indeed, the other person was the bad guy in that interaction. And friends tend to rally around us when we’re feeling that way. But what about when the argument is over? What happens when you and your partner/spouse want to get past it but it’s already been spread to everyone you e-know?
Yes, there is a feeling of freedom of saying what you want when you want to. And especially saying it to people who are faceless, in some respects, because they’re “out there.” Perhaps they don’t even feel wholly real sometimes. (I worked with an introvert once who said she couldn’t believe she had nearly 500 Facebook friends, when she had never had more than 3 actual close friends at one time in her life. She told me those 500 didn’t feel real to her.)
Facebook and marriage: Learn to mindfully navigate social media
So it’s important to acknowledge why we sometimes make these sharing blunders, but it’s also important to remember how to preserve privacy and intimacy, and to recognize whom it’s important to share the deepest parts of ourselves with.
To skip confiding in your mate (whether it’s something you’re dying to share or something you need to vent to get your blood pressure down) and instead share it with everyone hooked into your social media hub is, in essence, robbing your relationship of a vital, dynamic connection it needs and putting your energy into something that, once you put it out there, you can no longer control. (And therefore, it may come back to bite you!)
Some people even wonder whether social media ruins relationships!
Inappropriately over-sharing (i.e., “Get a load of what my wife just did…crazy, right?”) also robs you of the delay in gratification that discernment requires. It defines the knee-jerk, surface emotion—in the case of an argument with your mate, this might be seeing yourself as unjustly treated or a victim of sorts—as the only reality. And usually what is shared is de-contextualized, pulled from the more complex interaction that’s occurring with your partner, where you may be co-contributing to the relationship frustrations that are occurring.
But rather than sit with that uncomfortable reality, you run to your “friends” so they can scratch the itch of your indignation. This type of “sharing” via seeking online validation diffuses a level of commitment to your partner that’s needed for the hard work that relationships sometimes require.
And if you fall into a regular pattern of this, you won’t learn how to effectively deal with conflict between you and your mate (because this type of over-sharing bypasses your ability to deal with the relationship frustrations we all face).
With a little help from our friends…seeking support isn’t a bad thing
This doesn’t mean that seeking support from friends when you’re reeling from a fight you had with your partner is wrong. But a true friend would support you while also inquiring about the bigger picture. There is no real room for that in the public forum of Facebook. The pressure to respond in a very narrowed, superficial way to your calls for validation does not allow for that meaningful type of support. And furthermore, your spouse or partner may not be at all happy to find out that you’re airing the relationship’s dirty laundry without his/her consent.
Again, please do not interpret this as a criticism of social media—that is not my intent! I regularly use social media to connect with colleagues and friends. Instead, what I’m trying to do is encourage awareness of how we can use our bevvy of modern tools to enrich our lives while not undermining our relationships.
I’m also advocating for a mindful use of that same media. Rather than see connecting electronically as top priority and a reflection of life itself, I urge couples to make their relationship the priority and push social media further down on the list.
Wishing you and your partner greater privacy and intimacy!
Dr. Rich Nicastro
(Featured images “Businessman online” by Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)