Op-ed: Does Social Media Increase Paranoia in Relationships?

By Justin Hernandez

Originally published on Advocate.com February 06 2014 3:18 PM ET

Thanks to a recent study that was reported in the New York Times, we know that women are more likely to Google the word “gay” after “Is my husband…” At first glance, it seems like women — especially those residing in intolerant states — are oddly suspicious of their spouses’ sexuality. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and it might be indicative of a bigger problem.

In 2012, Scott Bea, a clinical psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, commented on findings from a study that found that social media can cause stress in relationships. Bea concluded that although social media helps connect people, it also has the ability to evoke feelings of jealousy. Putting this theory to the test, I ran several variations of the Google search, “Is my…” Regardless of whether I typed wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner, the word “cheating” always came up as one of the top-four auto fill options.

There is a certain thrill that accompanies connecting on social media with someone we are dating. It gives us a feeling of validation, and serves as an indicator that the relationship is indeed serious. Going from “Single” to “In a Relationship” is the equivalent of a cyber-consummation of that union. We’ve all met people who aren’t satisfied until their partner’s relationship status has been updated to reflect said relationship on Facebook. Maybe you’ve been one of those people on a few occasions.

The downside to this search for validation is that once you are linked to your mate’s social media accounts, you also have carte blanche access not only to their past, but also to their present. We’ve all known couples who have gotten into fights because of flirtatious comments posted on Instagram or Facebook. We might have had a ringside seat to some of these heated arguments. Again, maybe you’ve stepped into the ring yourself on a few occasions.

Social media represents a cultural shift in the way we communicate. Harmless, yet playful, exchanges that at one time might never have been spoken about can now be posted online and shared with anyone and everyone who is interested in reading about them. Rather than discussing progress in our fitness goals, we opt instead to post a selfie showcasing the results. Instagram and Twitter have made it easy to privately send photos to others. Snapchat goes one step further by deleting the digital footprint usually left behind by photo and video sharing within seconds after the recipient has viewed it. All of this creates a ripple effect that has found its way into dating and relationships.

That one-time feeling of validation can slowly give way to doubt, insecurity, and paranoia depending on how much time is devoted to perusing social media. What is supposed to be recreational entertainment sometimes evolves into cyberstalking, which takes away from the human experience of romance, and makes it secondary to monitoring our significant other's every move online.

Who would have thought that posting opinions, sharing photos, even accepting friend requests on Facebook, or following someone on Twitter would cause suspicious minds to go into overdrive? It would be easy to blame technology. After all, before the social media craze we didn’t have such easy access to friend lists, or immediate knowledge of what people were doing or thinking, courtesy of a status update. We had to take our partner’s word for it when he or she said they were out with friends or working late. Pre-social media, we were willing to trust, or at least give our partners the benefit of the doubt.

Nowadays, we are more inclined to launch an app and see if what we were told is true. Perhaps therein lies the real issue: The ease and convenience that comes with technology has also caused breakdowns in one-on-one communication. We’ve become more comfortable relying on what we read online and jumping to conclusions, rather than engaging in dialogue about it. It’s not the technology that’s causing the problem. It’s just amplifying something that was already there, and giving it a distinct voice. In the wrong frame of mind, worries that stem from social media can fuel insecurities, increase paranoia, and cause plenty of discord between couples.

Maybe it’s time to put the smartphones down and stop relying on them for the bulk of our information. When it comes to the people with whom we are romantically involved, it’s better to find out things the old-fashioned way — directly from the source. It will certainly be helpful the next time you scroll through your sweetheart’s Instagram feed and start foaming at the mouth over the comments and likes from a recently posted selfie. It might even diffuse a potential argument in the process. Most important, it will prevent you from becoming your own worst enemy.

Contributor: 
Justin Hernandez