Happily Connected – The Effects of Social Media on Personal Relationships

Updated: Oct 9, 2020

Digital social media has revolutionized the way we interact with our world.

It was through Facebook that I discovered that I had classmates living just a few miles away.

Classmates whom I had not seen since graduation decades ago.

There have been numerous gains without a doubt. Ex-flames meet again (hopefully more mature and with lessons learned) to renew a relationship. Former colleagues gather to catch up, or just to share stories and reminisce on past times. Relatives reappear in our lives, fostering get-together events and epic annual family reunions, where everyone proudly wears the same kind of t-shirt with the same printed surname, you know what I mean.

Like almost everything in life, digital connections have their good points and not-so-healthy points, to say the least.

It seems that in our now-habitual way to connect digitally, we forget to connect “face-to-face” “one-on-one”, as we would like to call it. The sad thing is that, sometimes, the constant interaction through social media may seriously interfere with another type of digital contact.

My grandmothers, if they were alive, would be horrified if I told them that I have daily digital contact with thousands of people. And that the more likes, the better.

For them, the word “digital” would have only one connotation. Therefore, they would think that thousands of fingers touch me on a daily basis and that I am in some way happy to favor such a “groping.”

This is because, for pre-social media generations, “digital” refers to the fingers in your hands.

Digits used not to caress your computer keyboard or the screen on your phone, but to have the kind of contact that involves the exchanging of touch with another living human being.

Through my studies, and my work with couples for over 26 years, I have become (as it usually happens when you do something that you are passionate about) a kind of expert on connection, of intimacy, of commitment, of attraction, of companionship and isolation. I bear witness to the challenges of marriage.

I acknowledge that, over the years, I have seen a shift in the kind of behaviors that prevent couples from connecting freely and openly. First, it was watching TV, working late, or attending to the children.

Today, what stays in the way tends to involve the gadgets that we use to connect to digital social media. This behavior leads to complaints I hear from couples who come to my office.

Complaints such as:

“You spend too much time on Facebook.”

“You post too many pictures on Instagram.”

“We almost do not talk anymore, if I want to know about you, I just have to read your tweets.”

These have become more common than we would care to admit. Criticism and complaints usually generate defensive responses in humans, and these are no exception.

“You are jealous because I have friends and you don’t.”

Or… “This is the only time that I have for myself, I have spent all day working, let me chill.”

Are the usual responses I hear.

What follows is a kind of dance that the creator of the most successful couple’s therapy model to date, University of Ottawa researcher Dr. Sue Johnson, also author of the Hold Me Tight® workshops, calls “Let’s Find The Bad Guy”.

This is a type of defective communication style in which one of the partners criticizes the other, resulting in his/her partner’s denial, followed by a counterattack. Some couples are permanently caught up in this cycle, and though tired of the ‘dance’ steps they follow, they have resigned themselves to continue dancing together “for the children’s sake” although they no longer enjoy being married.

For many of such couples, marriage has become a kind of boring carousel, an ugly black hole from which they would like to escape, but they just don’t know how. I wonder if they know that the real enemy is called DISCONNECTION, and that the ‘Bad Guy’ they have been unsuccessfully trying to find, is the vicious cycle they engage in.

What if, instead of accusing each other, they spend their energy creating a safe space for themselves, a kind of space that invites openness and vulnerability? What if, once there, they simply say what has been in their hearts all along: “I miss you”. “I need you”. “I love you more than anyone in this world”.

What if we all turn off our phones, the tablets, the TV, the game consoles, the PC, and decide to ‘digitally’ hold our partner’s hands while simply saying: “Here I am. I missed you. Let me hold you tight”. Have you wondered what could happen if you were to do that?

I think I know the answer. I believe that it is quite possible that you and your partner would be fascinated by this new rhythm, for it would allow you both to dance the more enjoyable dance — one that you could happily dance forever, a dance that you wish would never end.

Liliana Wolf