In today´s world of social media and digital living, one of the first things couples do when embarking upon a new relationship is become Facebook friends. Sure, there are benefits to facilitating transparency, and many couples eventually go “Facebook official,” posting romantic photos together, with accompanying descriptions of the joys of couple-hood.
In a previous column, I discuss the relationship benefits of going Facebook official [i], which can include an increase in commitment fueled by the public proclamation of exclusive dating status, and the often self-fulfilling prophecy of a stronger relationship.
Yet combining a dating relationship with Facebook friendship does not always have a happy ending. Sometimes, digital over-exposure has the opposite effect.
Facebook Monitoring and Misunderstanding
Becoming Facebook friends enables new couples to learn a wealth of personal and historical information about each other. It also creates opportunities for misunderstanding, jealousy, and distrust.
One potential point of contention stems from the fact that a new partner´s network of Facebook friends often includes ex-partners, many of whom still “like” photos and other postings of a former flame. Some of this attention is reciprocated, which can create jealousy and suspicion.
Beyond distrust, some individuals engage in pathological preoccupation with a new partner´s Facebook activity. Accordingly, romantic partners should be aware of the association between Facebook jealousy and aggressive behavior. Several studies have explored this connection.
Facebook Jealousy and Aggressive Behavior
Research by Muise et al. (2009) found Facebook use correlated with romantic jealousy due in part to the exposure to ambiguous information about partners.[ii] They note that such exposure creates jealousy, which stimulates more Facebook surveillance, which in turn produces more jealousy.
Facebook-inspired jealousy can cause more than arguments, it can prompt strategies of mate-retention, which can sometimes lead to physical aggression.
Brem et al., (2014), found that mate-retention strategies used on Facebook impact the frequency of intimate partner violence (IPV).[iii] They found that men and women employ similar levels of Facebook mate-retention strategies.
They note that offline, mate-retention strategies are tied to intimate partner violence in part because both behaviors are motivated by jealousy, and recognize Facebook as an online jealousy-evoking environment. They found Facebook jealousy and surveillance to be linked to both psychological and physical aggression, although noted that surveillance behavior alone is not sufficient to predict IPV because it is a common online behavior.
On the other hand, they acknowledge that other research supports a link between online mate-retention and relational contentment, noting that behavior such as displaying a partner in one´s profile photo increases relationship satisfaction.
Facebook Monitoring and Cyber-Dating Abuse Should Not be the New Normal
Borrajo et al. (2015) note that cyber dating abuse has been defined broadly to include behavior such as monitoring and surveillance of a romantic partner or ex-partner, posting humiliating photos, and making rude or threatening comments.[iv] They recognize that new technologies allow an abuser to control and intimidate a partner online instead of in-person.
They report that cyber-dating abuse is correlated with offline relationship violence and cyberbullying, and their results indicated that offline violent partners are more likely to engage in online abuse.
Borrajo et al. also note that cyber-dating abuse such as constant monitoring might become normalized when it is interpreted as an acceptable expression of love and concern, which could cause the behavior to continue. They explain that the contemporary technological environment of constant connectivity has decreased perceived individuality, and increased the expectation of knowing what other people are doing at all times.
Social Media Misuse and Peer Association
Where do abusive partners learn such behavior? Marcum et al. in ”I´m Watching You: Cyberstalking Behaviors of University Students in Romantic Relationships” (2016) found that cyberstalking, examined in terms of someone specifically trying to access someone´s social media, is predicted by deviant peer association and low self-control.[v]
They note that cyberstalkers likely learn from peers who support such behavior. They recognize previous research that demonstrated many university students believe their peers engage in intrusive online behaviors with romantic partners, and that individuals with low self-control are drawn to deviant peer groups.
On Facebook, Friends are Not Forever
If a partner (more likely now an ex-partner) has abused the access to your digital life you granted, it is time to unfriend. There are plenty of prospective partners who will reward your granting access with appreciation and affirmation, not abuse.