DATING, MATING, COUPLES COMMUNICATION AND SOCIAL MEDIA
DATING, MATING, COUPLES COMMUNICATION AND SOCIAL MEDIA
“My boyfriend is upset because I checked my Facebook after sex.”
“That was a fun first date. I’m going to post the pictures on Instagram.”
“I’m just going to check her phone while she’s in the shower.”
Does this sound familiar? Is Social Media affecting Romance?
Indeed, electronic communication has truly infiltrated every nook and cranny of our lives, replacing even tobacco or alcohol as a ‘feel good’ reinforcer. Anybody remember the afterglow cigarette?
The social and emotional reinforcement of Social Media and electronic communication is changing couple’s interactions and communication. In fact, it’s leading many to interact electronically before, during and after connecting with their dates and mates.
In my private practice as a licensed psychotherapist and couples therapist I see the daily effects of Social Media use on communication, both good and bad. Here are some of the pitfalls and solutions of Electronic and Social Media in Coupledom:
- David found out that Susan was still following her ex-lover Matt on Facebook and Instagram. What should David do? Following an ex on social media does present some sticky issues. Does Susan still have feelings for her old flame? Is she hoping to get back together with him? Isn’t David right to follow his suspicions?
- Mark likes to look at Steven’s phone when he’s in the shower. He’s snooping for clues. Doesn’t Mark have the right to know?
- Debra is eager to check her phone within minutes after sex with Chase. What’s wrong with that?
- Jenny posted pictures of her first date with Charles all over Facebook and Instagram and asked her friends for their opinions. Charles, a very private person, didn’t appreciate this and didn’t call for a second date. Wasn’t Jenny in the right?
- Anne is upset with Tom because he didn’t post anything about their one-year anniversary on social media and has never announced their relationship in any way on his Instagram account. Doesn’t Anne have a solid case?
- Lorie uses meal time with Tina to discuss who did and didn’t like her most recent posts on Facebook and continues to check her homepage repeatedly throughout dinner. Isn’t that ok?
- Vicky has a problem with Brice, her new boyfriend. He doesn’t like the fact that Vicky remains Facebook friends with her ex-boyfriend. It’s not fair. She believes that cutting off supportive people to please Brice is completely irrational. What to do?
In each one of these situations, there’s room for a conversation about how each individual–and how the couple–interacts with Social Media.
DISSATISFACTION AND DISTURBANCE:
Most of the communication problems couples encounter stem from 2 different problems
When one or both members of a couple are dissatisfied with a behavior, they often, not always, additionally become disturbed by the problem.
It’s often the Disturbance over the Dissatisfaction that leads to couple’s communication problems.
Whether by text, email, Skype, Zoom, phone or face to face, the biggest problems couples face are thinking problems.
MARY AND JOHN—TEXTING SILENCE:
Let’s say for example that Mary’s boyfriend John doesn’t text for 2 hours after she’s sent him what she believes to be a lighthearted, fun, loving text suggesting a special dinner next weekend. Mary is Dissatisfied. The 2-hour silence can be deafening for some people. But beyond Dissatisfaction, Mary may also be having some Disturbance i.e. distorted thoughts. The number of distorted thoughts that take place in 2 hours could probably fill an entire hard drive:
Why isn’t he writing back?
What is he thinking?
He resents me for suggesting a restaurant that’s expensive. Why is he so cheap?
He doesn’t know how to communicate.
He should have written to me by now.
What’s his problem?
Now you might say “boy, can I relate” or you might say “what’s her problem?”
In reality, her problem is a common one that we all share from time to time.
It’s a problem known as Disturbance or cognitive distortion, or in common parlance “twisted thinking.”
Twisted thinking often leads us to negative behaviors, like accusation, like stonewalling (keeping the other person at arm’s length, not communicating).
Now Mary may, in fact, have a reasonable dissatisfaction with John, knowing that John is not working today and has his cell phone with him. She may guess that he’s being irresponsible, or communicating through silence. But the fact is, she doesn’t know.
If she acts out of her Twisted Thinking, she’s going to ‘jump the gun’ and start acting angry or needy or jealous or demanding. John may, in fact, be irresponsible or less involved with texting than Mary and/or may have his phone on silent for any number of reasons. Either way, Mary doesn’t have evidence of John doing anything wrong other than preventing her from receiving an instantaneous response to her query.
HEALTHY WAYS TO RESPOND:
So, let’s look at 2 scenarios:
1. John is being irresponsible or lackadaisical in his responses.
2. John is very busy but hasn’t shared his schedule with Mary and thus is not able to discuss weekend restaurants.
In Scenario 1, Mary has a few reasonable alternatives.
1. She can wait till she and John get together and discuss a general guideline for texting together including statements like ‘can’t talk right now, will talk later.’
2. She can look for ways to ‘talk herself down’ and look for counter-evidence for her twisted thinking
“John and I never discussed rules for texting, so I can’t expect him to meet guidelines we never agreed upon.”
“John could be out of range, could have no battery, could have his phone off or on silent, either way, I can live with his late communication and talk to him later about time-related issues and texting.”
“John and I have a great relationship in many respects, so this one problem is not a make or break issue.”
“I cannot read John’s mind or intentions, so I’ll assume there is no meaning here until I discover one.”
But even deeper than these rational arguments against assumptions is the need for individuals, especially those in relationships, to look at Personal Demandingness.
Personal Demandingness generally comes in 3 forms and is discussed at length in the works of Ellis, Burns and other CBT pioneers.
The 3 forms of Demandingness are:
1. I must be perfect
2. He/She/They must be nice or fair to me.
3. The world should be an easy place to live in.
It’s very likely at times that one or both members of a couple will have these thoughts and believe them very strongly. In this case, it may be the 2nd belief “He should treat me fairly” that may cause Mary to act irrationally and send out a blisteringly angry text to John.
But, you say to yourself, John SHOULD, in fact, treat Mary fairly.
In the real world, the words must and should generally only apply to legal and judicial rules. Even then, people often defy and violate these rules (often with consequences). But this only proves my point. People are free to behave poorly, irrationally, meanly, inappropriately.
By demanding that our mates behave in fine, upstanding manner at all times, we can easily sabotage a generally positive, functional, fun relationship. People can, and often do, let us down. The sooner we can convince Mary that this is the case, the more likely it is that she will talk rationally to herself, recognize if she’s saying John should be fairer, and de-escalate her anger.
She can then set up a time to try to change John’s behavior but there’s still no guarantee that he will always and forever follow the guidelines they set up.
Often, however, couples will make each problematic interaction a Zero-Sum Game, meaning every displeasure, every conflict has the ability to create relationship Armageddon–total destruction of the couple.
WHEN HARRY FACE-TIMED SALLY
Harry insists that Sally gets on Facetime with him whenever he commands it. Harry is concerned that Sally is not where she says she is and that Sally is possibly cheating on him.
Now Harry could be right. Sally might be cheating on him. But if he has no evidence regarding this, then Harry’s behavior comes off as demanding and controlling.
Now Sally, if she’s truly calm and rational, might put up with Harry’s irrational demands and Facetime him. But she may also decide that Harry is expecting too much and decide not to participate in his demand.
What would be more constructive is for Harry to first determine–is there actual evidence that Sally is cheating on me? And if there is none, ‘why must I have a guarantee that Sally isn’t cheating on me?’
The demand to know instantly and always where Sally is and what she is doing really points to 3 possible Personal Demands–
- ‘She must be fair to me’
- ‘the world should be a fair place.’
- “I must never be cheated on and I must know it before it takes place.”
Finally, Harry may also be doing a nasty bit of business known as Self-Rating. This is the activity of rating yourself based on who does or doesn’t love you, who does or doesn’t reject you, who does or doesn’t cheat on you.
If your self-esteem–your value-to-yourself–is dependent on your status with a loved one, with their opinion or behavior or emotions, you are doomed to a roller coaster of emotions. Yes, you get the excitement when they tell you they love you and only you. BUT you also get the doom and gloom and self-downing when you don’t get approval, excitement, or loyalty that your self-rating demands.
In addition, when your Self-Rating is tied to the lover or potential lover’s ideas, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, you can easily fall into Other Rating; If Harry’s self-value is tied to Sally’s loyalty he may also decide that Sally is, in fact, an awful, terrible, despicable person, or not even human for ‘lowering his value’. This, in turn, might allow Harry to act even more irrationally as he may then Other Rate Sally and see her as evil, garbage, sub human–because he allows her behavior to negatively affect his self-esteem, self-rating and now she must pay!
So, it’s important for individuals who are dating and mating to stay aware of their potential self-rating and tying self-rating to a desired or loved one’s opinions, feelings and behaviors.
If Harry does, in fact, find that Sally is cheating, or that Sally is constantly out of communication and unable to account for her whereabouts, he can RATIONALLY decide that the costs of the relationship outweigh the benefits, or he could decide to have an open relationship. Either way, it’s beneficial for Harry to separate his value as a human being from Sally’s behavior or opinions or her decision to take another lover. THAT is true freedom
Now Harry may not be this twisted in his thinking but even if he is quite irrational in his thought process, as a couples therapist, I want to know that Sally is able to stay rational and avoid Harry’s irrational thoughts or accusations to trigger her own irrational thoughts.
Some irrational thoughts, disturbances, that come from living with or relating to a lover who is thinking irrationally include:
He must not think irrationally
He must not make demands on me.
He shouldn’t be so controlling or demanding.
And while we may agree with Sally that it is highly annoying, irritating and undesirable to be partnered with someone who is thinking irrationally, it is not an absolute that the other person ALWAYS be rational. The demand for rationality at all times in a partner, friend or lover, is in itself highly irrational. To be human is to err. We are all fallible human beings and have brains that sometimes get things wrong.
Sally would be better off rationally appraising this fact and seeing if she can assist Harry on her own or with therapeutic assistance, to think more rationally. If not, she is free to make a rational decision to end the relationship when the costs outweigh the benefits.
Couples are better off recognizing Personal Demandingness, creating rational, positive self-talk to contradict their irrational thoughts and calming themselves before working on any conflict resolution about Communication.
Of course, as a licensed psychotherapist, I highly recommend high flexibility in couples, even when communication guidelines are agreed upon. The key to a successful relationship, in addition to working on a fair social exchange, is high flexibility.
The positive secondary benefit to relationships when people avoid Self Rating and Other Rating, as well as Demandingness, is that they are less possessive, less needy, less demanding with their partners and encourage flexibility, spontaneity, and freedom in their relationships. So often the result is that they become MORE desirable by being less needy and demanding. That’s a win-win!
SOCIAL MEDIA/ELECTRONIC MEDIA GROUND RULES:
Of course, there are no rules that are so universal they can be applied to EVERY couple, but here are some guidelines that some of my psychotherapy clients have established to keep their relationship out of the Social Media graveyard:
1. Always talk as if you are in front of a judge. If you would not feel comfortable making a statement, live, in person, in front of a judicial official-a judge-then its best to avoid saying it online, on email or on text.
2. Always imagine that your partner, lover, date, mate is standing beside you and that you are communicating LIVE with people.
Would he/she appreciate you complimenting your ex’s new physique after their recent diet?
3. Phone free time–whether its meals, 10 minutes before or after bedroom intimacy, or just an afternoon getaway, make time for electronic break times.
4. Create Good Vibrations by turning your phones to vibrate or silent–turn off notifications from social media.
5. Have a ‘Private Conversation.’ It’s always a good idea to check on privacy concerns before posting info about your partner or posting about you and your partner as a couple.
Discuss comfort level with social media–how open is the other person. If there is no agreement, always go with the more cautious approach.
6. Milestone announcements: How important is it to your partner that you announce important moments in your lives like anniversaries, births etc.? Remember not everyone agrees that their lives should be made public. Not everyone wants various aspects of their lives or activities on display. This does not automatically indicate suspicious behavior. It can mean that the person has a career or ambitions that would be affected by public perception, or that they don’t identify social media as any kind of validation of the value of their day to day lives and that they desire more personal communication than social media offers.
7. Complete transparency: Some couples decide to give one another their passcodes and let their partner have complete access to their phone and online communications. If that works for you, go for it! However, if you still feel that everyone in the relationship has a right to some privacy, make that known. But if you don’t vote for transparency together and f you must SPY on your partner’s phone behavior, that’s grist for the personal conversation mill. There needs to be a conversation about trust and fidelity.
8. UNFOLLOW: Some couples decide to unfollow one another or not to follow each other at all. Thus, they avoid the constant critique of the other’s commentary on pictures or output. As Khalil Gibran said, ‘let there be spaces in your togetherness.’
9: BE CURIOUS not ACCUSATORY: Take a neutral, inquisitive stance when you see something that looks ‘suspicious.’ Your partner is now tweeting with a woman you both met at a party? Okay, look before you leap. Check in with him in a neutral way, try to keep the anger or panic out of your voice and ask about it.
10. Accept Fallibility: Assume that at some point, one or both of you may feel hurt because of your partners online behavior. Try journaling on what your partner actually did, not what you believe their intention was, and identify if you are saying anything to yourself that may have no supporting evidence.
Then once you have a clear idea of what is upsetting you, again, approach your partner in a neutral, curious manner, without accusation or assumption. Have a talk about online behavior and expectations.
11. Ask for Change: You may ask your partner to alter or delete some posts or to unfollow someone. However, avoid absolutistic demands, that your partner must, should, ought to, has to do as you say. Try to maintain some flexibility in your approach and help your partner see the effect of their behavior on your thoughts and feelings. Together you can work towards a solution that allows for both boundaries and freedom.
12. Evaluate your Relationship to Social Media: It’s very important that you look at any irrational demands you have about Social Media. In particular, try to answer these questions:
Why must people LIKE my posts?
Why must I show people what I’m doing, who I’m seeing, what I’m thinking?
Why must I consistently check my social media for responses?
Why must my date/mate recognize, acknowledge, identify our relationship activities, their feelings for me etc on Social Media?
It’s okay to enjoy being LIKED, Followed and responded to, and it’s okay to enjoy sharing aspects of your life with other people. What can cause problems however is the NEED, COMMAND, DEMAND that you are liked, followed, responded to. It’s also problematic if you feel sad, depressed, anxious, panicked because of other’s response or lack of response, other’s posts or lack of posts.
So be on the lookout for these demands:
- I must be liked, followed, responded to…
- Other people must post about me and our relationship.
- I must appear perfect to others online.
In particular be on the lookout for Self-Rating, Self Judgement, Self-Devaluing because of your or anyone else’s online behavior. Your VALUE does not rise or fall based on Social Media. In fact, your VALUE as a human being does not rise or fall at all. Contrary to popular opinion, you are born with VALUE and you live and die with VALUE. It cannot be increased or decreased by you or others. Not by opinion, consensus, or protest.
To quote Desiderata (Max Ehrmann):
“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
© 2018 Ross Grossman, MA, LMFT
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