Online Friends Affect Relationship Status

Complain about your job on Facebook? Your children? What about your marriage?

Hannah Seligson, author and New York Times contributor, contends that unhappy marriages are Facebook’s last taboo. Seligson argues that complaining about one’s spouse in public violates the marital code of silence. So, as people attempt to manage and influence how others perceive their relationships, social networks also affect couples’ views of their own relationships. Approval from friends and family can positively affect the stability and quality of romantic relationships, while social disapproval may be a negative, sometimes relationship-ending force.

In a 2010 article, Richard Slatcher found that friendships with other couples, particularly meaningful connections, increased feelings of closeness in one’s own relationship. It also turns out that perceptions of others’ opinions are more predictive of relationship stability than the actual views of network members. Thus social network approval has a positive influence on the partnership, including increased feelings of love and commitment.

As for the doubters, a new article in Social Psychology Quarterly by Colleen Sinclair and colleagues investigates how different personality types (different ways of handling emotions stemming from perceptions of limited freedom) moderate social network disapproval of romantic partners. In addition to following network pressure, people who perceive a threat to their ability to choose a romantic partner could react by doing the opposite of that encouraged by their network; others resist social influence and instead pursue self-determination. This team used survey data, a vignette design, and a laboratory-based dating game experiment to examine sensitivity to social network opinions. They report that relationship approval does have consistent positive effects on feelings of love and commitment. But when it comes to disapproval, people differ. Those with independent personalities were most able to ignore social network disapproval and continue loving their romantic partner. But contrary to expectations, defiant personalities did not magnify their commitment to their partner when confronted with network opposition. Although others’ approval of a couple’s relationship may reinforce relationship stability, reactions to social disapproval depends on one’s personality.

If Seligson is right that people don’t like to share negative marriage news on social networks, maybe that’s protective. Feelings towards a romantic partner seem to benefit from social approval, but if social networks negatively view their relationship, it doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the partnership, at least for people with independent personalities.

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