Does social media boost or threaten commitment?

Does social media boost or threaten commitment?

Some people believe smartphones have put temptation right under the noses of those who might be inclined to stray, while others think social media helps cement bonds.

Read on and decide how you feel about it…

Boost – it can improve your relationship

Last year, researchers Toma and Choi explored the connection between partners through their Facebook
activities, feelings of commitment, and the longevity of their relationship. Their conclusion led them to what’s
known as ‘public commitment theory’. This interesting part of relationship behaviour shows that when feelings
are expressed publicly, they cause a partner to feel more secure and committed. You might think that feeling
committed would come before outward expressions of devotion, but emotions often come about as a result of
certain behaviour.

As long as partners have their status showing ‘in a relationship’ or ‘married’, with shared couple photographs, Facebook wall posts to and from the partner, and a number of shared friends and social networks, Facebook activities influence feelings of commitment and the length of the relationship. This process is known as self-perception, self-presentation, public commitment, commitment consistency and internalisation. To start with, people sometimes ‘window dress’ to present themselves well to others. Over time, their internal feelings shift and align with their external expression. This is because people generally like their outward behaviour and internal feelings to be consistent. Therefore, public behaviour that suggests loving feelings or shared commitment eventually improves our real and private feelings too.

A partner feels more committed … when you publicly declare your relationship and ‘claim’ them in some way.

This ‘behaviour-changes-feelings’ pattern occurs frequently in romantic relationships. This is why it helps
for a couple to have similar tastes and interests to begin with and why, in time, some couples feel their
relationship grows from strength to strength. Continued investment in a partner eventually increases feelings of
love and attachment, and showing outward gratitude for a partner’s behaviour also increases a person’s internal
feelings of gratitude.


Basically, a partner feels more committed when you publicly declare your relationship and ‘claim’ them in
some way. The same effect comes from sharing pictures, tagging and liking, writing on each other’s walls, and
having common groups and associations online that are seen by others. The more they identify you as a partner,
and you jointly as a couple, the more they will actually feel committed. This internal feeling of commitment gives you
a greater chance of staying together.

On a more private note, free messaging apps allow for open communication between two people at no
cost, granting couples access to one another’s personal thoughts at any time. Knowing he’s thinking of you right
now has more intensity than being told you were in his thoughts earlier in the day, or not knowing at all because
he’s forgotten to mention it! And whose relationship doesn’t benefit from the occasional flirty innuendo?

Threat – it’s a big risk to commitment

Social media is particularly dangerous for vulnerable relationships. If your relationship is insecure, and you
feel unfulfilled, social media is like an open door to someone who does ‘appreciate you more’. ‘People you
may know’ could spell disaster for your relationship. Reconnecting with an old flame, or striking up a
friendship with someone with similar interests – with the social awkwardness of meeting face-to-face removed –
can happen ‘organically’, absolving you somewhat fromsearching with intent. Before you know it, you’re addicted
to their attention and enthusiasm.

Digital connectedness is also very tempting to someone with a fear of commitment and who thrives on
a quick ego boost or dopamine kick. Julie Spira, author of The Perils of Cyber-Dating, maintains you can get
hooked on flirting via SMS. ‘Since you don’t hear the sound of someone’s voice, often the texts are taken out
of context.’ If texting and tweeting weren’t huge disrupters of relationships, scandals involving political figures and celebs wouldn’t be a big deal. ‘Flirting via text message can bring you to the highest of highs and the lowest of
lows.’ Your good morning text can make you insanely happy, while your mood can be instantly ruined without
this ‘fix’ or when your message gets ignored.

Did you know? Checking up on someone else’s social media is known as ‘snoopervising’.

While couples may sleep with their phone on their bedside table in case of an emergency, chances are it’s
your cellphone you look at before turning out the light and when you open your eyes – and not your beloved
partner. Checking phones for emails, texts and mentions has pretty much become a habit at best, and a mental
disorder at worst. Trusting that your partner isn’t involved in the slightest with anyone online seems a feeble
weapon against the feedback addiction we all crave. Flirting via text messages or on social media when
you’re either in a committed relationship or married can be seen as ‘emotional cheating’ says Julie Spira. ‘I take
the viewpoint that if the person you’re communicating with does not know about your relationship status with
your significant other, there is merit to this.’ Texting, tweeting, and other digital communications
have replaced flirting by the water cooler and the occasional glance of someone attractive from across
a crowded room, according to Julie.


Before you know it, you’re addicted to their attention and enthusiasm.

‘While looking and flirting with someone of the opposite sex is considered normal behaviour, where
do we draw the line between having your ego boosted when you hear the personalised chime from the object
of your affection on your mobile phone, to sneaking into the bathroom to read your text messages so your partner
doesn’t know you have a digital crush?’ questions Julie. ‘My message to you is, if your online and digital behaviour
are ones you think your partner would be uncomfortable with, don’t push the send button.’

Social media has opened up all sorts of grey areas, making it harder to determine where someone’s loyalties
truly lie. Always remember that anything digital can be shared or forwarded, or a screen shot can be taken. If
having your parents, kids, boss, friends or partner read your communications would cause you to feel even the
least bit humiliated, then it’s just best not to get involved.


Joni van der Merwe

About Joni van der Merwe

Your Family’s Digital editor. Avid retweeter. When I’m not scrolling Instagram you’ll find me in my garden. Keen on DIY and I don’t believe there’s anything that can’t be fixed with some chalk paint.


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