Social Networking and Your Partner’s Mental Health
A client knew her (now) ex-boyfriend’s Facebook password, and used it to login to his account and read all the messages he had sent another woman. She didn’t need the extra incentive to break off the relationship, but that certainly didn’t help.
Another client complains that all of her friends are posting exciting, happy news on their Facebook pages, and she feels like a loser because she doesn’t feel she has anything important to say, keeping her mired in depressive thoughts about the state of her life.
There was a post here on Psych Central a few weeks ago about the impact of social media on kids and adolescents. There’s little argument that adults are affected too, and adults who have depression and anxiety can be even more affected than the general population. If your partner has a mental illness, what should you consider when it comes to social media and their mental health?
- It is all about context. I don’t know about you, but I find it extremely annoying when people post vague statuses, such as “Contemplating the future…” or “I wish I knew what to do…” without explaining exactly what is going on. If your partner is feeling depressed or anxious, especially if your relationship is struggling, it’s easy to read into status messages and make them about something they are not. You might be “contemplating the future” because your boss asked you to brainstorm for a work project, but if you have been having relationship problems, your partner might read it as you are thinking about a future without them. Yes, it’s a bit nitpicky, but adding “…thanks to my new assignment at work” to the original status can eliminate unintended confusion, jealousy, anxiety, etc.
- Consider having a joint account with your partner. Social media only virtually brings people closer together; sitting with your partner, looking at Facebook, Twitter, etc. together and discussing what’s out there can bring you together both physically and emotionally. You can jointly decide who to be friends with, what pages to like, and how to communicate to the world about your life together. While I don’t recommend being online together as your only means of connection, it may eliminate anxiety on your partner’s behalf about what exactly you are doing online.
- Encourage your partner to only be “friends” with or “follow” people they truly are friends with. Back when social media sites were just getting started, most people “friended” or “followed” anyone and everyone, even if they didn’t know them very well. Now that most of us have gotten over the competition of “who can have the most friends,” it might be time to pare down the list a bit. Is there someone (or multiple someones) whose posts trigger bad feelings in your partner? If your partner isn’t willing to “defriend” them, they do have the option of hiding that person’s statuses from popping up in their news feed. This solves the awkwardness of defriending, but also eliminates the constant aggravation.
- Do not air relationship problems on Facebook/Twitter. I am constantly amazed by the client stories I hear of partners, ex-partners, “best friends,” and other important people posting nasty messages on Facebook where everyone can see them. If you are having an issue with your partner, notifying them (and the rest of the world!) via Facebook or Twitter is not going to help. (Neither is text messaging, but that’s slightly outside the scope of this post.) Facebook and Twitter are public forums. Remember the old rule of “If you don’t want it on the 5:00 news, maybe you shouldn’t do it.”
- Consider not using Facebook and/or Twitter at all. It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have either of these platforms to use for communication, and somehow, we survived. Social media can be overwhelming, and taking a break from it all can be a huge relief. If your partner seems to be getting triggered by what they read on Facebook or Twitter, encourage them to take a break. If you are finding that you are spending more and more time online and less and less time connecting with your partner, it might be time for you to take a break, too.
Thieda, K. (2011). Social Networking and Your Partner’s Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 4, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/wellness/2011/08/social-networkin-and-your-partners-mental-health/