Selfies, likes, followers, notifications, stories, filters, snaps: Social media and its associated jargon are everywhere and unavoidable. A majority of Americans use social media, and on a daily basis. But for some, it’s not just an occasionally useful tool or fun escape. It’s a way of life.
Twenty-one-year-old Alley Kerr uses Instagram every single day and has more than 10,000 followers. A while back, her frequent Instagram use caused tension with her boyfriend, who resents social media. It was part of the reason they split up for a while, though they are now back together and trying to work through their issues.
“It is something he tries to be supportive about but I can always feel an uncomfortable energy when I’m about to take a picture or pull out my phone,” she says. “I try to explain to him that it is crucial for marketing myself, but part of him will never understand.”
For her, Instagram is business. It gives her the exposure she needs in the entertainment industry where she is a professional dancer and works as various Disney characters. “For me, it’s more than just posting cute pictures of what I like to do with my friends. I’m very strategic and intentional,” Kerr says.
Emily Gabelman, MSSW, LSW and Marriage & Family Therapy Associate says social media can absolutely affect relationships.
“There can be different opinions about what and how much to share on social media,” she explains. “One partner might want date night to be a private thing and the other [might] want to take a picture, post it and write a book in the caption.”
She also says if someone is constantly on their phone, it could make the partner feel rejected or less important than the phone.
“It can also cause issues because people often look at their ex’s accounts which may bring up old feelings or bother the other partner, and it makes it easier for an ex to get in touch,” Gabelman explains. “Social media definitely causes people to compare as well. Someone may scroll through their Instagram and see seemingly perfect couples and then start to question their own relationship.”
People can become addicted to social media to the point where it not only affects their relationships, but their day-to-day life. Not having one’s phone at all times is a real source of anxiety for some. The addiction can lead to loneliness and social isolation, not to mention distraction and the inability to get tasks done.
On the flip side, some, such as 30-year-old mother Kayla Wilson, feel that social media provides an important sense of community. “I think motherhood makes a lot of women feel isolated because it limits what you can do so much,” she says. “As a stay at home parent, my partner is oftentimes the only other adult I see and engage with daily in real life. There’s a strong mom community on IG and I feel like that’s a huge reason why [I use it].”
Her partner does not resent her for using social media, but doesn’t like social media and rarely uses it himself.
“He thinks it’s for people who need attention or validation, or that it’s for keyboard warriors and overly opinionated people,” Wilson says. “Or that it’s for superficial relationships and friendships. I can’t say he’s wrong, but at the end of the day, I think validation is something every person needs, so I don’t view it the same way he does.”
Ingrid Hopmoen, age 26, uses Instagram and Facebook. Her boyfriend, Kenji Little, 31, never had social media until very recently, when he made an Instagram account for his cross-country travels. He posts infrequently.
“I’m currently apprenticing to tattoo, so it is a great free way to not only promote myself and stay in contact with my clients, but also to explore other tattoo artists’ work,” she says.
Little supports Hopmoen’s use because it’s largely business-oriented. He, however, says social media obsession and constant usage in today’s society is unhealthy and addictive. “I think that Ingrid, for the most part, has good intentions and uses it to move forward in her career,” he says. “Sometimes, she uses it as an excuse to just use social media, and sometimes it drives me nuts. But, if it does, we talk about it.”
Hopmoen says the only conflict they’ve had is Little noticing how often she’s on her phone at times.
“After explaining to him why, and also taking his feelings into consideration, I do try to limit my usage when we are together,” she says. “After we spoke about it, I realized that my social media usage for work and keeping up with friends was becoming a habit of checking it constantly for no reason.”
She recognizes the immense problems social media can cause for couples in general.
“There is a lot of pressure put on each person when they both have social media presences. “Who is that person? Why do they keep liking your posts so often? Why don’t you ever post any photos with me/of me? Why do you post so many selfies? There are a ton of really bizarre arguments that have arisen since social media has become so prevalent,” she says.
According to BBC, 40 percent of the world’s population uses social media for at least two hours a day (if not many, many more). This is causing stress, affecting moods and sleep, and perpetuating anxiety and depression.
Gabelman recommends behavioral interventions to curb excessive social media usage. This can include setting timers, having designated phone-free time every day, turning off phone notifications, not having your phone with you in bed and other tactics.
When it comes to relationships, she advises getting to the bottom of the real issue. People who are upset about their partner’s phone usage need to explain how it actually makes them feel and why. Otherwise, their anger may come across as controlling or disrespectful.
“When someone really shares how they’re feeling, it’s easier to comply,” she explains. “The way they communicate is important as well. If someone says, ‘You’re always on your phone and it’s really annoying’ the other is going to get defensive. But if they say, ‘I’m feeling kind of down right now and would love to spend some quality time with you,’ [their partner] would be more likely to put their phone away.”
At the end of the day, it’s about coming to the bottom of an issue, discussing it fairly and understanding one another’s needs. And using social media in moderation and in healthy ways. While they may never fully get each other, couples with opposing social media views can — at the end of the day — make it work, online and offline.