Perfect relationships don't exist. So why do we pretend they do when we look at other couples on social media? In this episode, Dr. Rachel Vanderbilt, the Relationship Doctor, explains how social comparisons can negatively affect your relationship.
It has never been easier to see into other people’s lives. We create a carefully curated picture of our own lives on social media, often masking the negative things we endure and highlighting the positive.
It can be easy to forget that other people are doing the exact same thing. We see our friends and our families portraying the perfect picture of their relationships, and assume that their lives and relationships are really that perfect. It can be tempting and easy to compare that perfect image to our own lives and relationships and feel sad about our own realities.
What is social comparison?
This process of comparing our relationships to other people’s relationships is called social comparison. Social comparisons aren’t unique to the age of social media, but they are more prevalent and potentially less accurate. This process occurs automatically and unintentionally when we view another person’s social media posts, meaning that it's really hard to avoid if you don’t realize it is happening.
Social comparisons happen in two ways. We can either compare our relationship to another relationship that we feel is better than our own (upward comparison) or to a relationship that we feel is worse than our own (downward comparison). It makes sense that when we compare our relationships to others that are worse than our own, it can help make us feel pretty good about ourselves. However, comparing ourselves to a relationship that is better than our own can make us feel self-conscious or unsure about our own relationships.
Since social media is so heavily curated to only show the best sides of ourselves and our relationships, people who browse social media more frequently are more likely to make upward comparisons to others. This can be really damaging to our self-esteem and how satisfied we are in our own relationship. Research has found that people who spend a lot of time on Facebook are more likely to make social comparisons and are more likely to experience depressive symptoms.
Often, our social media is filled with our friends, family, and acquaintances. Social comparisons to people we know, or people we perceive we have a relationship with, have a stronger impact on our self-images than social comparisons to strangers or fictional relationships. Social media can make us more susceptible to the detrimental effects of social comparisons precisely because it is filled with people we're close to.
What is really going on in those “perfect” relationships?
Research has found that people who frequently post selfies of themselves and their romantic partner online are more likely to feel jealous of others and compensate by trying to portray their own ideal relationship online. Because of these feelings, they are more likely to experience conflict with their partner about their overall online commentary on their relationship. They often feel less satisfied in their relationships.
Essentially, the people who most often post about their romantic relationship online may be compensating for their own feelings of inadequacy about their relationship. The "perfect" relationship you're comparing your own relationship to might not really exist, at least not in the way you're imagining.
3 tips for coping with social comparisons
Again, it is human nature to compare yourself to others. If you are struggling to stop comparing your relationship to others and are finding that it's negatively affecting your well-being, there are a few things you can do to cope:
Take a social media break! Try to limit the amount of time you spend on social networking sites. Many of us spend time passively browsing social media with no particular purpose. This kind of browsing can increase feelings of envy or jealousy, while also reducing our mental well-being. Research has found that limiting the amount of time you spend on social media can help decrease feelings of loneliness and depression, as well as reduce the fear that you may miss out (FOMO) and feelings of anxiety. Specifically, reducing your social media consumption to 10 minutes a day for three weeks can have significant improvements on your well-being!
Try to reframe your thoughts about what you see online. Knowledge is power, and understanding your unconscious perceptions of what other people post online can help you combat feelings of jealousy or inadequacy. The next time you see a friend’s post about their relationship, take a moment to reflect on what you are feeling and why. Remember that the perfect image you are seeing isn’t the full story and may be hiding the negative parts of that person's relationship.
Once you identify why you are having certain feelings, have an honest conversation with your partner. Is it a lifestyle issue, or a desire for a certain kind of activity in your relationship? Are you feeling like you are missing out on something? The only way to see changa e in your relationship is to talk with your partner about what you are feeling and what you want to be different!
When looking at someone else’s “perfect” relationship online, remember that not everything you see is an accurate representation of their lives. Social media is highly curated and is intended to give off the perception that people have their lives together, even when they don’t.
In moments when you are feeling really down about your relationship and notice you are being impacted by seeing posts online, consider taking a social media break. If you are feeling poorly about your relationship and wish things were different, you can work with your partner to make your relationship better! Instead of comparing yourself to others, work to create the relationship you and your partner desire together.