Social media impacts real relationships

Published: Wednesday, March 27 2013 5:15 p.m. MDT

However, there are dangers in sharing information online and trying to connect with people.

"Because there's not a particular person in front of us, you don't always think of the consequences of sharing things," he said. "When there is someone standing next to us, we realize the consequences. It's a little harder to see the consequences of our actions."

One consequence is the danger some relationships end up in due to networking on social media sites. The word Facebook was included in more than a third of divorce filings last year, according to a survey done by Divorce Online and reported on by the Wall Street Journal.

"When we look at social media, I see it as changing relationships in a couple of key ways," said Rachna Jain, a psychologist by training with clinical specialization in couple and marital therapy. "It is definitely another distraction from primary relationships. You see that when people are talking on Facebook, not to their partner, with them right there in the room. There is the possibility to go back in time. Facebook makes that really easy."

Core relationships now have a lot more threats because people have an easier way to get in touch with people from their past, according to Jain.

"It's just a medium for connections," Jain said. "The idea needs to be that whatever rules or guidelines you have for connections, if you wouldn't leave your husband or wife for somebody for a drink, you have to think, 'Should I be on Facebook corresponding with a bunch of people at home, with them here?’ ”

This line of thinking can work as a barometer for acceptable behavior and make it easier to focus on how the use of social media can build a relationship instead of break it.

The dangers of anonymous intimacy

One problem presented by the use of social media in relationships is forming a false sense of anonymous intimacy with those one is connecting with online.

When people spend a lot of time on social networking sites, they begin to feel as if they really know and are friends with the people they are communicating with, even though they may really not be, according to Jain.

"You need to have a plan for proximity — either they live where you are, or you plan to be in close proximity outside of social media," Jain said. "When we look at what makes an intimate relationship, it relies on shared experiences, shared time together — like doing things together — and it relies on a shared history."

Because so many put details on Facebook, people have a view into others' lives that creates a shared history. But there is still a digital divide, Jain said.

"It feels very intimate, but if you've never actually met the person it's not as fully intimate," she added.

To Jain, there are two different lines of thinking with sharing information online — either people are sharing intimate details because they are looking for support, or they are looking for attention. With the first line of thinking, it is often difficult to coordinate meeting up in person, and social media becomes an easier, shorthand way to create those connections.

The second comes closer to the concept of the current age of narcissism, Jain believes. Becoming popular on social media sites can often make one feel like a celebrity, of sorts.

Relationships of all kinds

For Ciara Vesey, a recently graduated law student from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, social networking began as it does for many. When Facebook became popular, she joined. When everyone started tweeting, she got a Twitter account. But after a year or so, everyone was starting to use social media for everything, at every moment of the day.

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