How would we even live without social media? In a world where our phones are the first and last thing we see every day, it's no wonder social media can affect our relationships, both online and off. "Research shows that, on average, we spend two or more hours a day on social media," explains communication expert and author Leslie Shore. She warns that fostering relationships online can hurt our relationships offline, but they can also make us less able to communicate. "Those who have limited experience in reading people do not have the same level of social intelligence previous generations possess," she says. "If this becomes the new normal, building strong, deep relationships will take more time and will be more difficult to maintain."
Meet the Expert
Leslie Shore is a communications expert who has worked with governmental organizations, corporations, and civic groups, and teaches at several universities in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area.
When we are constantly tied to our phones checking work emails, news alerts, or simply scrolling through Instagram, it's imperative that we learn to balance this with offline time with our loved ones. "The hold our devices have on us is invisible until someone actively calls to our attention the fact that we are paying more attention to the device than the person with whom we are conversing," says Shore. "It is almost impossible to create or enhance relationships when social media is, in the first place, taking our time and attention away from who is in front of us." So how do we keep our relationships strong in the age of social media? Take Shore's advice on how social media affects relationships and what we can do to fix it.
Be Extra Careful in Early Relationship Stages
While the overuse of social media at any stage of a relationship can have negative effects, Shore argues that it's worse in the early stages.
"At the beginning of a relationship, we attend to the other person because we want to get to know them," she explains. "We listen to their likes and dislikes, history, family dynamics, dreams, and fears. We spend hours in conversation, discovering each other. No fact too small, no story too long. The building of the relationship has newness and surprises. During this time, it is critical that cellphones are out of sight while in conversation to ensure total concentration on the other."
She also warns about the dangers of messages getting misconstrued via text, especially when you're still getting to know each other: "Texting between each other should be positive and factual," she says. "Do not allow jokes or sarcasm to creep in, as they don’t translate well and create a rift instantaneously."
Think Twice Before Posting Anything Personal
While social media can have negative effects on a relationship across the board, Shore advocates for the need to be mindful of our partner when interacting on social media. "Don't respond to a post or comment out of emotion," she says. "Take time to process what you have read or seen and allow yourself time to reflect on your thoughts before commenting out of anger or frustration. Remember that everyone is entitled to their own opinions."
In the same vein, while you may be tempted to share all aspects of your life, remember that your partner may not be on the same page: "Keep your personal conversations personal," she says. "There is no need to take your private life public. Posting about your partner’s choice of a birthday present for you or gossiping about your S.O. are communications best left out of the public eye."
Always Keep Your Loved Ones Top of Mind
While there are always risks involved in navigating social media and relationships, there are also ways to ensure that your communication stays strong: "Stay truly connected to those who matter," explains Shore. "Don't wish your family a happy birthday on Facebook—pick up the phone or make the trip to see them. Instead of sending invites, thank you cards, and holiday cards online, send your loved ones something they can keep forever."
As our social media networks continue to grow, the expert also recommends being mindful of people's beliefs and values: "Remember who your friends are," she says. "Before sharing your thoughts on politics or religion, or posting something provocative or controversial, keep in mind who your audience is. Is it worth creating tension with your family, friends, or co-workers?