Saturday, April 12, 2014

Relationships in the Age of Social Media

Move over, OkCupid and eHarmony. There’s a new way people are meeting and sparking up romances online and it’s through sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Dating and marriage has changed dramatically with the widespread adoption of the Internet and creation of social media sites. Today, more than one-third of marriages in America begin online, according to a 2013 study sponsored by eHarmony. The increasing popularity of social media sites has led to a multitude of new uses -- more specifically by providing the tools and the ability to find your potential soulmate. Regardless if you’re single and looking for “the one,” or if you’re in an existing relationship, one question remains to be answered: are these sites helping or harming your love life?



Social media sites provide communication channels that strengthen romantic relationships due to one of its most inherent features: the ability to share. As a result, helps foster open communication and build trust between couples. For some couples, being “Facebook official” isn’t enough as 11 percent of “partnered or married adults who use social networking sites share a social media profile.” Some couples feel closer to each other when they share profiles and having joint profiles can remove feelings of suspicion and insecurity.

The ability to share even helps individuals in relationships, as people who post profile pictures of themselves and their partners feel more satisfied with their relationships and closer to their partner than those who did not. And when people felt more satisfied in their relationship, they are also more likely to share relationship-relevant information on Facebook. And like with offline communication, when people talk to their partners online, they are likely to feel closer to them.

It turns out that happy couples aren’t just sharing profiles and information about their relationships. Just over two-thirds of couples that are married or in a committed relationship “have shared the password to one or more of their online accounts with their spouse or partner.” Forget the old tradition of exchanging vows and rings, today the act of exchanging social media passwords with your partner demonstrates a symbol of trust and commitment in a new way.

Today, more people are finding the love of their life through social media sites and in some countries, Facebook has replaced the use of online dating sites. A study conducted between 2005 and 2012 found that nearly 7% of Americans who were married met on social networking sites. Also during that time, more individuals met online than any single offline location, such as school or work. While some may be skeptical of online and social media dating, couples who meet through social media are “more likely to be satisfied with their marriages than those who [meet] in traditional offline ways, such as through friends.” They are also no more likely to get separated or divorced and are just as likely to experience equal or greater marital satisfaction.

via PaulMichaelHughes
There are many advantages through finding a potential partner on social media sites. This rise in popularity is attributed to low-risk dating factors, such as the ability to create free profiles and the ability to meet new people outside of your community or network. The ease of online interaction can later help make in-person meetings less awkward. It seems that people in the Internet age, people are increasingly becoming just as comfortable talking to each other online or through text messages as they are with face-to-face communication. This makes social sites a valuable tool that can help you get to know someone better online and can later help serve as an icebreaker when meeting in person for the first time.

The popularity of dating online and through social media has transferred to mobile. New apps have been created for people looking for love to meet, connect with potential partners and even provide a way for couples to grow their relationships. Many are going as far as integrating popular social media sites into the app’s functionality. Tinder is a new mobile dating app that uses Facebook profiles to find and match the compatibility of users based on their geographic location, common interests and mutual friends.

Other apps, such as 2Life are designed to nurture and grow relationships by keeping couples connected. The app enables people to chat, share, and collaborate with their partners on a private level. It also allows the sharing of journal posts, calendar events, photos, links and more privately between only two people. It also allows couples to plan dates with the ‘date night’ feature, which uses Yelp to help couples find the perfect place.

While social media sites have been shown to build existing romantic relationships and bring potential partners together, there are downsides to the platform that are not positive factors in dating and relationship building. One study found that 8 percent “of Internet users in a committed relationship have had an argument with their spouse or partner about the amount of time one of them was spending online and 4 percent “have gotten upset at something that they found out their spouse or partner was doing online.”

Social media platforms such as Twitter were created to help build relationships yet ironically, using Twitter might spell trouble for a user’s real-life relationships. A recent study from the University of Missouri School of Journalism showed that Twitter-related conflict leads to negative relationship outcomes, including emotional and physical cheating, breakup and divorce.

The results were found to be similar for Facebook users when compared to an earlier study by the same author. That study found Facebook-related conflict and negative relationship outcomes were greater among couples in couples that had been together for less than 3 years. The good news is that for couples together longer than 3 years, Facebook is not a concern because they “may not use Facebook as often, or may have more matured relationships.”

However, on Twitter, the same outcomes occurred regardless of how long the couples were together. For married couples, increasing use of social media resulted in no greater relationship satisfaction and even led to decreased marital satisfaction.

If social media was created to bring people together, then why is it splitting couples apart? One reason may be that people are more likely to monitor their partner’s online profiles. One partner might become suspicious and feel that the other is hiding something. This can lead to feelings of jealousy, arguments, or emotional and physical infidelity, especially if one partner reconnects with an ex on a social media site. For couples in new relationships, it is probably best to limit social media use to avoid conflicts while they are still learning about each other.

Overall, it appears that the findings are mixed on whether social media hurts or helps romantic relationships. What is clear is that the invention of these sites have created new avenues for finding love and fostering the growth of existing romances like never before. And if one day you happen to find yourself in a relationship due to one of these sites, don’t forget to make it “Facebook official.”

This was originally posted to the EagleStrategies blog.

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