Who are they—the couple at the restaurant that looks at nothing but their phones? Or, worse, one of them looks at nothing but their phone while the other looks on mournfully, trying to extract even a snippet of conversation.
When we see it in others, it’s tragic. But what about when we do it? Sure, it might not be at dinner, but what about all the other silent moments when we turn to our phones instead of our partners?
Most of the time, we’re looking at our social feeds when we phub (the act of snubbing someone by looking at your phone) our partners. It might seem harmless or even beneficial in some situations, but social media can present very real dangers if you’re in a committed relationship.
Here are three common social media pitfalls that can do some serious damage to your relationship if you’re not careful:
It might be easy to justify zoning out on your phone when you get home from work or while the two of you eat dinner alone. They understand, right? You can talk on your next date or whenever you’re feeling less overwhelmed. This strategy can work to a point, but over time it will rob you of a thousand mini connections with your committed partner.
Instead of asking about the details of their day, cluing into their mood or even just soaking in the silence (which can be bonding in its own way), you’re liking photos, laughing at memes and leaving comments for your digital friends.
Additionally, consistently turning to your smartphone may be sign of smartphone dependence, something that’s scientifically proven to hurt the health of romantic relationships.
“At times, my heavy involvement in social media has created tension and caused stress on our marriage,” said Ashley LaMar, who blogs about healthy living and her marriage on her website Honey and Pine Co. “We finally sat down and had multiple conversations together about boundaries, what was OK to share and what had to remain private. We started adding ‘offline’ time to our days and weekends so we could focus only on each other and our marriage.”
When all you see from your friends are engagements, babies, promotions and houses, it can feel like you and your partner somehow missed the boat. You start to wonder if you made a wrong choice somewhere along the line or if you should put more pressure on yourself or your partner to hit the milestones you see others reaching.
“We can’t help but compare our relationships to the ones we see on social media,” said St. Louis-based psychotherapist Julie Williamson. “As a result, we may start to question our partner’s commitment to us (and) feelings for us… if they are not doing the kinds of things we see other people’s partners doing.”
This mindset creates fertile ground for resentment, anxiety and depression. Instead of appreciating who your partner is, what they have accomplished and what you have accomplished together, you turn your focus to where your relationship is lacking in comparison to the highlight reel you see online.
When you’re focusing on whether your relationship is going too slow, too fast or just isn’t as exciting as it’s “supposed” to be based on what you see online, you stop enjoying your unique path in life and opt to treat your life and relationship like it’s on the stock market, with its value waxing and waning in accordance with how it compares to others. Needless to say, it’s impossible to build a healthy relationship with this kind of mindset.
This is the area where social media can level the greatest blow to your relationship. There are countless stories out there of one partner seeking solace from an old flame when their committed relationship gets difficult—only to end up jumping ship in the end. However, keeping tabs can manifest in smaller ways than abandoning the relationship altogether.
“There are so many ways to ‘cheat’ on social media today, which can ultimately harm the relationship,” said social media expert Kris Ruby. “The real problem is that people do not see it as cheating because it’s not in the physical world.”
Ruby has coined the term “micro-cheating,” which refers to “any individual action on social media that can hurt your partner’s sense of security in the relationship.” You and your partner will have to decide for yourselves what exactly qualifies as micro-cheating, but no matter what you decide, it’s an important conversation to have if the issue arises.
Some things you might want to discuss are liking photos, posting photos, leaving flirty comments and chatting over messaging platforms when any of those activities involve old flames (or potential new flames).
“If you do not outline your expectations in these areas, you are setting yourself up for disaster,” Ruby said.
No matter where you feel you and your partner are at with social media usage, you should talk about it. Establishing boundaries and respecting individual feelings will go a long way in keeping your romantic relationship strong and free from unnecessary resentment and jealousy.
If talking about it isn’t enough, it might be time to take a break from social media before it breaks your relationship.
“If you find it’s becoming a recurrent strain, try to deactivate your accounts so you can remove the problem and focus on the relationship,” said Ruby.
Cara Haynes is an editor and freelance writer who thinks words are probably the most important thing we have. She spends too much time thinking about them, whether that means reading the labels on her shampoo bottles or sending novel-length texts to her husband. When she’s not doing word work, she enjoys doing leg work in the mountains with her goldendoodle, Dobby. You can find her wherever there is chocolate-chip cookie dough within walking distance.