Tempted to share your deep thoughts and personal feelings online? Proceed with caution if you don’t want tensions with your spouse or lover to grow.
Self-disclosure on social media can bring more harm than good to romantic relationships, causing intimacy and satisfaction to drop, a new study published in PLOS ONE has found.
But there’s also a simple remedy: include your partner in your posts.
The trouble begins when people share intimate details about their lives online as if they’re in a one-on-one setting, forgetting they have a large audience, said Juwon Lee, the lead author and a relationship researcher in Carnegie Mellon University's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
But their loved ones are very aware the message is being shared with lots of others.
“Just be careful when you’re talking about yourself to large groups and your partner can see that,” Lee told TODAY.
“Your partner senses, ‘My [girlfriend] is actually telling the whole world something that she used to just tell me.’ It’s the perception that there are a lot of other people listening that is making [the partner] feel less special and that is what’s lowering your intimacy in the relationship.”
In other words, if something just the two of you might discuss suddenly pops up on Facebook for hundreds of “friends” to read, you may not feel as close.
The study was based on five experiments involving almost 700 participants. Some who were in romantic relationships, for example, were asked to look at a mock Facebook page filled with either lots of intimate updates (talking about trying to lose weight or feeling frustrated at work) or less personal information (posting news article links and comments about the weather) and told to imagine it belonged to their partner. How would they feel?
Some participants filled out questionnaires to measure how much they discussed certain topics online and in real life. They also reported how much intimacy and satisfaction they felt in their romantic relationships. Their partners were contacted, too, and asked those same questions.
Over and over again, the experiments showed that sharing highly intimate details online would likely hurt a person’s romantic relationship.
"Anything that used to be done only in a very intimate context, such as a romantic relationship, that is now being done in front of all these other people — that might have negative consequences," Lee noted.
Friendships were not affected because friends don’t have the same expectation of exclusivity that romantic partners do, she said.
To counter the damage to your love life, feature your partner in your posts, the study found. That could mean posting photos of you together, tagging your loved one in posts when you discuss your thoughts and feelings, or writing about a great experience you had together, Lee said.
“I know it can be a bit artificial and it’s another extra step,” she noted. “But you might have to go an extra step to counteract those consequences… It’s just really important not to make the partner feel left out and not to make the partner feel they’re not special to you.”
She offered these tips:
- If you wouldn't to talk to 100 people in the real world about your deepest feelings or how you had a fight with a loved one or how you had a horrible day at work, don't do it online.
- Be aware of your audience: research shows people often have no idea how many other people are looking at their posts.
- If you really want to share, just text your partner for one-on-one communication without an audience, or better yet, just talk about it face-to-face in real life.