In the movie The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg deems the relationship status section of users’ Info the finishing touch on his new website, “the Facebook.” Assuming the movie was depicted accurately, this last minute addition may have changed the face of what it means to be “in a relationship.” Today this means that your relationship status is no longer a private agreement between you and your partner, but rather a public display broadcasted to all of your “friends.” “Facebook official” is a popular term used to describe the process of changing your relationship status on Facebook to reflect that you are now in a relationship. For some, this denotes the official beginning of a new relationship. After all, nothing’s official until it’s on Facebook, right?
In a recent study, researchers explored whether being “Facebook official” (i.e., posting a relationship status and profile picture with your partner) has implications for relationship satisfaction. In a sample of 58 couples, 78% were relationships where both partners had their relationship status listed as “in a relationship.” 16% of the couples were relationships where neither partner had their relationships status listed, and the remaining couples were mismatched (one partner listed themselves as “in a relationship” and the other did not). In slightly more than half of the couples, both partners had a dyadic (read: couple-y) profile picture; in 19% of the couples neither person included their partner in their profile picture, and in the remaining 19% one partner had a dyadic profile picture and the other did not.1
It turns out that being “Facebook official” may be one indicator of relationship satisfaction:
- Men who posted that they were “in a relationship” reported higher relationship satisfaction and so did their female partners (women’s relationship status was not associated with their own or their partner’s satisfaction).
- Women who displayed a dyadic profile picture, and their partners, reported higher levels of relationship satisfaction (men’s profile pictures did not influence either partner’s satisfaction).
It may be that more satisfied couples are more likely to represent this on Facebook; however, truly negative consequences for the relationship were only the result of disagreements about the relationship presentation on Facebook. Women who responded “yes” to the question, “Have you and your partner ever had a disagreement over your or your partner’s relationship satisfaction?” reported lower levels of relationship satisfaction.1 A partner not posting an accurate relationship status is one trigger of Facebook-related jealousy,2 which might partially explain the link between these disagreements and reporting lower levels of relationship satisfaction.
Taken together, these findings suggest that satisfied couples may be more likely to post relationship-relevant information on Facebook, but not being “Facebook official” does not decrease your relationship status unless you disagree about the importance of listing a relationship status and posting profile pictures together.
“Facebook official” also works in reverse. Changing your status to single can let people know your relationship has ended. In a recent post, I suggested that perhaps, after this happens, it might be best to delete your ex to avoid another social media phenomenon: “Facestalking” or “creeping” your ex-partner.
1Papp, L. M., Danielewicz, J., & Cayemberg, C. (in press). “Are we Facebook Official?” Implications of dating partners’ Facebook use and profiles for intimate relationship satisfaction. Cyberpsychology & Behaviour, DOI: 10.1089.cyber.2011.0291
2Muise, A., Christofides, E., & Desmarais, S. (2009). More information than you ever wanted: Does Facebook bring out the green-eyed monster of jealousy? Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 12, 441-444.
Dr. Amy Muise – Sex Musings | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Muise’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy.