My husband is not active on social media. He got a Facebook account because everyone else did, but he never looks at it. He doesn’t know what Twitter is or how Instagram works. I, on the other hand, am a little too into social media. I love Facebook and seeing what people are cooking and what their kids look like. I even like watching the occasional political squabble unfold. Frankly, I may love Facebook too much, but that’s (mostly) OK, at least according to recent research.
Jeffrey Dew, an associate professor at Utah State University, conducted a study with a colleague on 1,300 couples, the state of their marriages, and media use. They asked the couples questions designed to tease out how happy their relationships were (for example, how often they fought and how likely they thought they were to divorce). They also noted how much time each participant spent on social media, watching television, and playing video games.
The results? The more the men used social media, the lousier they and their wives felt about their marriages. Women’s social media use didn’t have much of an effect on the quality of their marriages. There are a couple of possible explanations for this: that men who are unhappy in their marriages may spend more time on Facebook because they need more social connection and support than they’re getting at home, or it could be that men who’re spending a lot of time online are ticking off their wives and eroding the quality of the relationship.
Women, who are socialized to have wider friendship circles and to tend them assiduously, may get a pass, so to speak, for spending a lot of time on Facebook, because they’re just doing what women are expected to do. Men seeking comfort and support outside their marriages still isn’t really an acceptable thing, which may be why men are the loneliest demographic. (Dr. Dew also raises the possibility that the men who are overly active on social media—at least for their wives’ taste—might also be seeking “alternative romantic partners.”)
High television use, for men, was also correlated with a less-happy marriage. Video game playing was only problematic if one partner was doing it way more than another, and it didn’t matter if it was the man or the woman who was playing.
All this makes sense. Social media, and our constant access to it via smartphones, introduces shadowy other players into a relationship. If you’re spending a lot of time Facebook-stalking an old flame or even having extended, meaningful conversations with people you don’t even know in real life, that’s going to take some of your time and energy away from your spouse. My husband gets home from work late in the evening, and sometimes I’m tempted to let him eat by himself while I continue to surf the Internet. It’s alarming how much effort it takes me to unplug and shut down all streams of communication except for the one that’s happening in real time, in my kitchen.
Another thing I’ve got to stop doing, for the health of my marriage, is “phubbing” my husband—ignoring him in favor of checking my phone. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until we were waiting for a concert to start and I was trying to figure out how to post a pic to Facebook on my new phone. Ten minutes later, he gently said, “Can you put away your phone? We’re on a date.”
Unsurprisingly, this phenomenon has been studied too, this time by a professor at Baylor University in Texas. He found that when couples think their better half is dissing them in favor of the phone, it creates conflict in the relationship.
Even with new technology, old rules apply. If you want intimacy, pay attention to the guy who’s in the room with you. This is my new resolution, starting right after I watch this Facebook squabble unfold.