Long-distance relationships have the ability to push couples out of their comfort zone and into a place of either anxiety or security. These relationships have developed over time as technology has evolved and become part of our everyday lives. Before texting, there was letter writing. Before Instagram, there was print photography, and before SnapChat, there were quarters and pay phones.
With the development of social media comes the debate of whether these platforms hurt or help couples who can’t see each other every day or even every week or month.
People who use Facebook more than once a day are more likely to report relationship conflicts arising from social media, according to a new study in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.
Individual, Couple, Family Psychotherapist and Counselor Education Lecturer Portia Allie-Turco said the effects social media depends on each and every relationship and their communication skills.
A common trend among social media users is misinterpretation, which is easier to do among those in long-distance relationships. When something is posted on the Web, it allows for people to view and comment, making for the opposite party to interpret the meaning.
Allie-Turco said the misinterpretation of what they see online can stem from one’s assessment of the threat.
“If somebody posts something, there’s a threat of being embarrassed, there’s a threat of being exposed, there’s a threat of being laughed at by other people, there’s an immediate reaction of being threatened somehow,” Allie-Turco said.
Senior Paola Melendez has been dating her boyfriend for nearly three years and is currently in a long-distance relationship. For a while, the couple has chosen not to be “friends” or “follow” each other on social media to avoid conflicts.
She said her partner can get upset when he sees photos of her out or with friends, but she chooses not to look through his stuff because “if you look, that’s how you find.”
While Melendez is rational when it comes to social media, she said her partner is quick to overreact.
“When he sees photos of me when I’m in Plattsburgh, he says, ‘Well, you didn’t tell me you were with that person and you said you were these people,’” Melendez said. “It brings up problems, but he’s trying to work on it because I try to talk to him about it.”
When one feels overcome by a reaction to something they see online, Allie-Turco said the idea is to take a minute, assess and figure out why you’re reacting in such a way by asking yourself, “Why am I upset about this, what is this really about,” rather than becoming angry.
Forty-five percent of Internet users aged 18-29 in serious relationships say the internet has had an impact on their relationship, according to a study on pewresearchcenter.org, a research website.
The impact social media can have on a couple can vary depending on the length of relationship, communication patterns and confidence of partners involved.
Senior Alex Chapman has been in a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend for a year, and he said social media doesn’t play a big part in their relationship. He said his experience with it is positive because they can see each other’s pictures.
“It definitely helps,” Chapman said. “It’s just another way of communication because that’s the thing with long distance — communication.”
Melendez recalls a time when her boyfriend commented on another woman’s Facebook photo with a diamond emoji, but she said she wasn’t offended because she’s confident in their relationship and “a comment is just a comment.”
To remedy the social media situation, Allie-Turco said setting boundaries and asking your partner questions like, “What kind of things are we okay with each posting?” can be helpful.
“People don’t talk about those, and then only react when something happens rather than talking about it before it happens,” Allie-Turco said.
For Melendez and her boyfriend, she said she explains to him that he’s not going to know everyone or the places she’s pictured at because he isn’t here, and he needs to understand that.
Allie-Turco explained that for long-distance couples, pressure is going to occur because the partners are away, and seeing photos of them with other people can instill the jealousy factor.
“You have the jealous factor and you have the missing them factor,” Allie-Turco said. “You start to miss them even more, and you kind of start feeling like you’re replaceable by other people.”
To avoid the jealousy and stress, Melendez said she and her boyfriend post to social media rarely, so that it’s special and has meaning behind the posts.
“It’s a way of making each other feel special, but not using it as the main source of making each other feel like you still love them because you’re posting,” Melendez said.
Allie-Turco said good rules and communication is key. She explained that if you use the idea of “I-messages,” it can help communicating when you see things that upset you.
“I-messages” have two parts. The first part says how you feel and the second part has your request or what you would like to be different.
“Once you’ve decided you’re going to be in a long-distance relationship, I would say to sit down and come up with the most common things people are faced with in long-distance relationships,” Allie-Turco said. “Come up with the ways you’re going to handle those as a couple — start from the get go.”
Email Brittany Shew at firstname.lastname@example.org