How Social Media Comparisons Sabotage Your Relationship

Happy young couple rides a motor bike down a street
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"Happy anniversary to this beautiful woman! So lucky that she's the love of my life!" read the enthusiastic caption under a photo of one of my girlfriends. Her husband posted it to Facebook, and it loomed large in my feed as I scrolled. I paused just long enough to click "Like" under the photo.

But I didn't like it. Not really. Instead, I felt a clawing envy — one that wished wistfully that I were the object of someone's public display of affection in this newsfeed.

Never mind that my own husband doesn't even use Facebook. Or that we just celebrated a decade of marriage — at Disney World.

I was perfectly content with how we marked that milestone until I saw a handful of posts from another couple filled with photos of gorgeous bouquets and even more flowery words of affection. Then I felt a bit slighted, as though my marriage were missing something.

The pull to peer at the highlights other people put on display is alluring. We can easily start to feel as if our own marriage is inadequate when all other relationships look picture-perfect. The old adage of "sharing is caring" has been distorted in this digital format where sharing now equals comparing. And comparison often leads to discontent, an emotion that can gnaw at a marriage.

Here's how I began to focus on the only audience that truly mattered: my husband.

Acknowledge the influence of social media

Many of us stage images — or at least selectively post images that show us in a positive light — because we are secretly afraid that if anyone really knew us, they would like us less because of our mess. We don't want to show the cracks, and especially not the places that might be split apart, because we want to secure our belonging. This is one of the biggest draws of social media: It gives us an instant, external validation that we are still wanted.

But when we allow someone else's curated representation of his or her life to influence how we live our own, we miss the richness of what was meant uniquely for us, especially as it relates to our most intimate relationship. We often think that if we replicate what we see someone else doing, we'll be happier. But if we shape our marriage to fit someone else's mold, we miss the sanctity that comes with forging our own union. The things we allow to influence our marriage should cultivate a deeper connection with our spouse, not leave us striving to attain someone else's staged "perfection."

Identify the negative impact

I knew that I needed a social media sabbatical when I started speaking critically to myself while scrolling through my Instagram feed. I'd berate myself for not being a better wife. And let's not even get started on those beach pictures that did not make me feel good about my own body in a bathing suit, despite my husband's repeated reassurance that he still likes my shape two babies later. One swipe of the screen and suddenly I began comparing myself to a still frame, feeling as if I didn't measure up as a wife.

How can you know when you're in danger of being negatively influenced in the online space? The first hint for me is when I see an interaction from another couple and then think, Why doesn't my husband ... ? If comparison isn't inspiring me to love my spouse but is breeding resentment instead, that's a sure sign that I need a reset. I know it's time to limit the outside influences that are coloring my view of my relationship — because the measure of my marriage should not be set by any social media algorithm.

Press reset

Apple picking in the fall is a favorite activity of mine. It's no surprise that my introverted husband does not share my love of spending the day in a crowd of people plucking fruit. But you'd never know that he isn't so fond of the annual pilgrimage to the orchard if you look at my social media feed because I spent 15 minutes forcing my family to pose happily among the trees — in matching outfits no less — replicating a picture that I'd seen online.

When I later reflected on that trip, I thought about how much fun the kids had seeing the farm animals, picking apples and zip-lining. But we didn't make a single good memory during that photo session. I realized that social media had subtly moved me toward recreating someone else's moments, and I had put the focus on pleasing my friends, not my family who was with me.

Instead of investing in the Instagrammable moments, I want to invest in the moments that build my marriage. Because "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21).

There isn't any evidence that we went to the orchard during the most recent apple-picking season, except what lives in my memories: my husband with the baby on his shoulders, him lifting up our daughter to pick apples as high as she could reach, everyone in mismatched outfits that would completely clash in a family photo. It didn't look anything like a good social media post, but it is a treasure.

And when our anniversary rolled around, I pulled out my iPhone to see a text message from my husband pop up. "Happy Anniversary," it read succinctly, and I paused for just a moment. I responded with a thumbs-up emoji — to let him know I liked his text. And I meant it.

Kayla Aimee is the author of In Bloom: Trading restless insecurity for abiding confidence.

Becoming Socially Responsible

Most of us can't abstain from using our smartphone. We need it for work, tracking teens, saving money on groceries and for the flat-tire type of emergencies. We can, however, limit our usage and cut back on time spent scrolling through social media posts. These tips may help you ward off bad habits:

  • Download an app, such as Offtime, TimeWellSpent or Moment, that will help you limit distractions.
  • Put social media apps and games in folders because sometimes "out of sight" really does mean "out of mind."
  • Turn off sound notifications for social media apps so your curiosity isn't piqued with every ping.
  • Apply commonsense boundaries, such as "no phone use during dinnertime."
  • Put your smartphone in another room before going to bed so you're not tempted to check it during the night or first thing in the morning.
  • If you cut back on social media use, don't merely pick up another questionable habit. Instead, engage in meaningful activities, such as reading or having a date with your spouse.

—Marianne Hering


How strong is your marriage? Find out today with the Focus on Marriage Assessment. This reliable assessment is based on the research and experience of Focus on the Family's marriage experts Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley. Take this free assessment now. 

This article first appeared in the August/September 2018 issue of Focus on the Family magazine and was originally titled "Is Your Marriage Facebook-Worthy?" If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
© 2018 by Kayla Aimee. Used by permission.

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