How to set social media boundaries in a relationship

How much does your phone dominate your spare time? A typical evening at home in front of the TV can often be punctuated with a stream of interruptions from your mobile phone as messages, notifications and calls pour in. It is common to see diners at restaurants with their devices perched close to their plates so they can keep an eagle eye out for the next incoming message. What you don’t always see is how irate their dining companion is because the person they are eating with more interested in the alerts flashing up on their screen. Our phones are usually the first thing we reach for in the morning and the last thing we look at night.

How much time a partner spends on their phone and on social media platforms can be a big source of tension in a relationship. In a 2014 survey, 45% of internet users aged 18-29 said the internet has had an impact on their relationships. Many people are guilty of ‘phubbing’, a term used to describe snubbing somebody you are with to look at your phone. It’s been hailed as behaviour that can severely disrupt your present moment, in-person relationships.  

However, with some simple boundaries in place it can be much easier to navigate blending your online life with your personal life. We’ve highlighted the common issues that can occur and the steps you can take to address them.

Exes on social media

A new relationship can be impacted when one person discovers the other is still friends with their ex on Facebook or Instagram. Liking and interacting with an ex’s posts can also add friction to the relationship and fuel jealousy and insecurity. The new partner may feel like you are deliberately keeping an eye on what your ex is up to. It can be worth considering unfollowing an ex that is not part of your life anymore, or thinking carefully about why you are posting on their timeline and what your new partner would make of the behaviour.

Respect your partner’s privacy

It’s often the case that one person is more private than another in a relationship, which can leave them feeling uncomfortable about the amount their partner is sharing about them both online. They might not want updates about their relationship status shared with the world, or countless photos of them appearing without their prior consent. It’s best to discuss posting anything related to the relationship beforehand, making sure the other person is comfortable with it being shared with the world. Make sure you are on the same page about the sorts of things you post so one of you isn’t left embarrassed by an overshare they didn’t want to appear online. Airing your dirty laundry via status updates is a big no-no as well.

Create device-free time

It’s important to dedicate time when it’s just the two of you, with no phones or other devices allowed. Whether it’s a mealtime, date night or just agreeing to put your phones on do not disturb while you watch a movie together, it helps make sure you are both really in the moment. In general, it pays to be mindful how often you use your phone when you are with your partner and consider catching up with messages when they are busy, or when they are also on their phone. The same applies if you are dating – there’s nothing more annoying than a date who keeps checking their phone every two minutes during dinner.

Bad behaviour online

Micro-cheating is a problematic behaviour that often plays out via social media. It’s doing that your partner wouldn’t approve of, such as not revealing your relationship status to somebody you are chatting to or having personal interactions with somebody else that they hide from a partner. It’s embarking on behaviour that you wouldn’t tell a partner about, or actively concealing online activity from them. Having clear boundaries about what you think is acceptable on social media and clear communication can help address any issues that arise.

There are plenty of positives to social media and phone communication, not least they are a good way to stay connected no matter how busy everyday life gets. They are a great way to stay in touch when navigating a long-distance relationship and social media platforms provide a sweet way of collating memories of your time together. Just ensure you get the balance right to avoid any negative consequences for budding relationships and to avoid conflict with a long-term partner.

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