Early in my current relationship, I fell into the habit of reading a little too much into my partner’s social media likes. One day, I confronted him about how he had liked multiple marathon finish photos posted on Instagram by someone in our friend circle who I sensed had feelings for him. He reassured me he saw her as just a friend, and looking back, I think he truly just wanted to celebrate her marathon finish and nothing more. “This is why I hate social media,” he sighed. True, Instagram had made it easier than ever for me to spin narratives that only fed my insecurities about our relationship. My partner didn’t cross any lines, that trope of the partner engaging in less-than-innocent DM exchanges with their ex still permeated our psyches. Is social media always relationship poison? Can social media benefit relationships?
According to therapists, yes. “It really boils down to how you’re using it,” says Liz Higgins, a Dallas-based marriage and family therapist. “I think it can bring a lot of feel-good moments and affirmations.” She adds that, for many of us, social media has become just as meaningful a part of our relationships as what we do behind closed doors.
Here are a few of the positive effects social media can have on relationships:
It can make it easier to get to know a new partner
Scrolling through your new boo’s profile can quickly reveal whether you have any shared interests, or even if you’ve been to the same destinations or events, which “can kick-start the get-to-know-you process,” says Megan Negendank, a Sacramento-based couples and family therapist. If you have mutual friends, you can subtly ask them for the scoop on your partner, which could help vet them. It can make people feel safer if they’re starting to date someone, Negendank says.
It can help you cope with not seeing your partner as often as you’d like
In the first year or so of a relationship, you probably want to spend a ton of time with your partner, which may not always be possible, says Annie Wright, a Berkeley-based psychotherapist. But, “social media posts can provide some kind of comfort,” she explains, much like what’s known in psychology as a transitional object — a blankie, stuffed toy, or other object that helps children cope with being separated from their parents, for instance, in preschool or daycare.
My partner travels a bunch for work, so I seek comfort in social media even now, four years into our relationship. Scrolling through his Instagram feed or seeing a funny meme from him in my DMs while he’s away gives me a mini-rush that helps me cope with the distance.
It can help you feel more secure in your relationship
Seeing someone you’re dating or talking to tag you in a Facebook check-in or post a status update about the amazing time you had together can feel affirming, Higgins tells Mic. “Those are things that add up in this bucket of feeling important, feeling connected, that they’re drawn to you.”
Later down the road, noticing your partner change their relationship status on Facebook or post photos of you together on Instagram can further increase your sense of security. Similar to a wedding before a huge group of guests, “it’s like social proof,” Wright says. “It’s an added layer of that person saying, ‘I choose you. I am committed to you.’” Making it official on social media can reassure you that what you and your partner have is real.
My partner and I rarely text; our digital communication consists almost entirely of DMing each other memes.
Social media also offers another way for couples to celebrate their relationships — for instance, by posting photos of them together on anniversaries — which can help keep the spark alive. “It can be a really sweet, meaningful digital gift,” one that may hold even more weight if the partner posting it doesn’t use social media that often, Wright says.
It can deepen appreciation for your history
Features like Facebook Memories allow you to relive your relationship, from the beginning all the way to the present day, which help you gain an appreciation for how far you’ve come as a couple. “It’s memory lane, but in digital form,” Wright says. “I think it can be really supportive to a relationship.”
It can help you stay up-to-date on your partner’s life
While she doesn’t advocate snooping, Negendank says having an overall awareness of what your partner is paying attention to and who they’re interacting with on social media can help you stay connected with them. “We do have healthier relationships if we know what our partner is up to and what kinds of things they’re interested in,” Negendank says. If they mention fantasy football a bunch in their Instagram stories, for instance, ask about the game on Sunday.
It creates fun ways to connect with your partner
Like many millennial couples, my partner and I rarely text; our digital communication consists almost entirely of DMing each other memes. We pick ones we think will make the other person smile, sometimes in reference to an inside joke.
While they might seem like superficial forms of communication, Wright views memes, emojis, and other forms of digital shorthand as part of “the secret language of a couple” that enhances the delight, familiarity, and camaraderie between partners. Negendank agrees, adding that the element of fun that marks the early stages of dating can get lost in long-term relationships. “Having that playfulness and flirtation can really help relationships last,” she says.
Of course, everyone assigns different meanings to social media. While it can help couples, knowing your partner doesn’t want to leave a digital footprint, and not posting about them, “is a way of benefiting the relationship,” Wright says. She suggests learning about the nature of your partner’s relationship with social media and respecting their boundaries around it.