It may be routine to quietly scroll through your Instagram feed while lounging on the couch with your spouse, but one study has found that this has the potential to negatively impact marital bliss. After analyzing the social media habits of about 1,500 couples, Utah State University discovered that while extra time spent connected to devices may not mean your marriage is on the rocks, it could lead to dissatisfaction and perceived instability. Gaming also reported to have a similar effect on perceived marital conflict, but only when one spouse reported gaming more than another. Interestingly, too, the study reported that while women tended to use social media more than their husbands without reporting dissatisfaction, men who spent more time on social media than their wives were more likely to report marital issues.
A tool for disconnect
Though her clients tend to come to her with deeper conflict than the overuse of social media, Certified Relationship Coach Dominique Clark says, "Social media has definitely been a side effect or 'escape' from those greater challenges, so I often encourage other alternatives that will motivate the couple to work through the conflict together as a team, instead of giving into our natural instinct—isolation."
The image of instability
The study, which questioned participants' "marital satisfaction, conflict and perceived instability" documented the way they felt about their spouse's use of social media, as well as their own. Clark says that overuse "can result in insecurity, self-doubt, jealousy and even anger. You invite your partner to assume that there is something more important than them that has your consistent attention, and they may not know how to compete with that."
So you discover there's a problem, what can you do?
Boundaries and time limits are good starting points for correcting a social media overload, Clark says, which will begin to put things into perspective when you monitor how much time you or your spouse might actually spend engaging on online platforms instead of each other. But making the most of little moments is what counts. "Like when you wake up, say 'good morning,' and embrace each other first before picking up [your] phone and scrolling through," she says. "Allow [your] partner to feel like they're important, because they are."
Other ways to discover if there's a problem
Now, the study reports that "the effect size of the relationship between social media use and marital quality was small," so we can all rest a bit easier, and you don't have to deactivate your Facebook account. But if you're worried you may have an issues connecting with your spouse, "Look for signs of lack of communication, lack of interest in usual routine or activities, spending more time away," Clark says. And if you're socializing with people outside your normal circle, or if you or your spouse become a bit short-tempered or easily bothered, she says these clues may be signs of a poor relationship or an unhappy partner.
So if you're finding yourself putting in some extra screen time, it may be time to evaluate why that's happening—and even if nothing's wrong, we could all benefit with a bit more face time with our spouses, right?