Social Networking Sites and Romantic Relationships: Effects on Development, Maintenance, and Dissolution of Relationships

By Kenadie T. Wilkerson
2017, Vol. 9 No. 03 | pg. 1/1


The evolution of social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., have changed the way we look at relationships. Social networking sites have become a popular place to meet and connect with other people. They are also a place where romantic partners can go to display their relationships to their peers. Previous studies have shown that social networking sites can have both positive and negative effects on interpersonal relationships. This paper will focus on the development, maintenance and dissolution of romantic partners on social networking sites.

In our now largely virtual world there are many different ways that we can choose to communicate with one another. Texts, FaceTime, and social media sites have become some of the most popular ways for people to communicate with each other. Romantic partners express their relationship in many different ways. A couple can choose how they want their relationship to be expressed to the public. Now, with the increasing growth of technology, romantic partners can express their relationship online for essentially everyone they know to see. Social networking sites are used to try to recreate face-to-face communication and to maintain interpersonal relationships by allowing individuals to share and post things with each other (Farrugia, 2013). Couples can use social networking sites to communicate with and about their significant other (Utz, Beukeboom, 2011). social networking sites, such as Facebook, allow couples to post pictures and statuses about their relationship but it can also be a breeding ground for jealousy and can cause uncertainty in a relationship.

Facebook and Relationships

Facebook is widely regarded as the most popular social networking sites of our generation with over 1 billion users. It was created in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg during his time at Harvard University. Social networking sites like Facebook are considered nonymous (opposite of anonymous) and are usually used to connect with connections that have been made offline (Zhao Grasmuck & Martin, 2008). Users can connect with people, upload pictures and share their interest with their friends. Facebook supports the maintenance of existing relationships and the formation of new connections (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007).

social networking sites can help facilitate and maintain relationships between romantic partners. Facebook connects partners together online by allowing them to view their profile, post pictures with/of each other, and also can physically link profiles of partners together when the relationship status is changed. The promotion of one’s relationship of facebook can also be seen as a form of self-presentation and can be used to help boost the person’s popularity (Lukacs, 2012). Utz and Beukeboom (2011) discuss three characteristics of social networking sites that can influence relationships. The first is that social networking sites increase the amount of information that romantic couples receive about their significant other. Social networking sites allow us to see things on our partner’s profile that can influence our emotions towards them. If a partner sees a picture of his/her significant other at a party that they did not know about then it is likely to create bridging in the relationship. The second characteristic is that social networking sites make it relatively easy to monitor partners. Facebook makes it simple and anonymous if a partner feels jealous to basically spy on their significant other without them knowing. The last characteristic of social networking sites it that information about and relevant to a romantic relationship is publicly displayed to peers.

Relational Dialectics Theory

The Relational dialectics theory (RDT) can be used when discussing social networking sites and romantic relationships because it analyzes the creation of meaning from competing discourses that cause conflicts and resolutions in relationships. Relational dialectics theory states that romantic partners have to try to balance the effects of forces trying to bring them together and pull them apart simultaneously. The forces acting on the relationship are called dialectics and they occur both between the couple (internally) and between the couple and their social networks (externally) (Fox, Osborn, & Warber, 2014). I will be focusing on the three primary dialectics: expression-privacy, integration-separation, and stability-change (Fox, Osborn, & Warber, 2014).


This dialect refers to the struggles that romantic partners face between inclusion and exclusion. The couple must find a balance between being a “we” and an “I” on social networking sites. I have discussed previously that social networking sites allow couples to connect with each other in a multitude of ways but it is ultimately up to both partners if they choose to use Facebook as another channel of communication in the relationship. For example, a partner may choose to not participate online for many reasons such as wanting keep their relationship private.


When using social networking sites, the issue of privacy is a relevant concern. This dialect discusses how much is shared on social media and how much is left as a mystery from social media users. Sharing too much on social media can take away from the intimacy of the relationship between two people. Adversely, sharing too little on social media can cause outsiders (friends/peers) to question the authenticity of a relationship. Social networking sites make it possible to share almost every aspect of a relationship but finding a balance between sharing too much and not sharing enough is necessary for effective relationships.


The last dialectic discusses the balance between things staying constant in a relationship and things changing. Subtle changes to a relationship are healthy and normal, everyone changes so it only makes sense that relationships evolve as well. The extent of change in the relationship can sometimes create uncertainty. When both partners are not in agreement with the balance of stability and change in the relationship then it may cause uncertainty in the relationship.

Becoming “Facebook Official:” Social Media and Relationship Development

The beginning of a relationship on Facebook can start with partners “liking” or commenting on the other’s content. When the couple changes their relationship status from “single” to “in a relationship” is when the relationship is recognized by friends and peers online. The change of relationship status shows some sort of possession that expresses that the other person is no longer available (Bowe, 2010). For many couples, becoming Facebook official (FBO) is an exciting thing to share with friends on social media. The features that Facebook uses allows the two users to connect to one another and displays it on both of the users’ profiles. If one partner is usually very private on social networking sites then becoming FBO may be a cause for tension in the relationship.

Social Networking Sites and Conflict in Romantic Relationships

When couples are active on Facebook it can sometimes create conflict in the relationship. Conflict in relationships can sometimes stem from insecurity or uncertainty in a relationship. If a person’s significant other posts a picture with a member of the opposite sex or posts on their wall then the other partner may start to feel uncertain about the relationship. Social networking sites make it easy for a partner to be aware of inconsistencies in the relationship. A survey conducted by Fox (2014) revealed that students feel that without Facebook the inconsistencies would still happen but were more likely to be downplayed because it wouldn't be as public as doing it on Facebook. When we feel insecure or uncertain in a relationship social networking sites make it easy to check up on our significant others. Many people seek out social media sites to use for surveillance on their partner.

Using Social Media for Surveillance

It is common for people in romantic relationships to keep up with what is going on in their partners’ lives. While the healthiest way to acquire this information is to ask the other partner directly, sometimes partners will use more passive strategies to gain the information (Fox & Warber, 2013). Social networking sites are a commonly used platform to spy on a person’s significant other either by their partner or by their friends/peers. Using social networking sites for surveillance is a method that a partner can use to become more aware of what their significant other is doing both online and offline (Tokunaga, 210).

Tokunaga’s four characteristics of social networking sites- accessibility, multimediation, recordability and archivabilty, and geographical distance- shows that social networking sites are a preferred method used for partner surveillance.The first characteristic, accessibility, explains that all the information you need for surveillance is readily available on a person’s profile. Secondly, there are a variety of ways to post information on social networking sites, such as posting statuses, photographs, commenting on other’s posts/pictures, etc. Photographs tend to be where the most information can be acquired because they can tell where a person is, who they are with, and what they are doing (Fox, Osborn & Warber, 2014). Third, social networking sites allow a user to see archived information- such as past photos or posts- from a user’s profile. If a person is insecure about a particular person that their significant other is around then they may go look at older pictures of the two to increase their knowledge of the relationship. Lastly, since you do not have to be geographically close to whoever you are spying on it is easy to do it anonymously without the partner ever knowing (Tokugnaga, 2010).

Social Media and Jealousy

Jealousy in relationships occur both online and offline. Since social networking sites make it easy for someone to check up on what things their significant other is doing, this can create jealousy and uncertainty in a relationship. If a significant other is “liking” or commenting on someone else’s pictures then that may make their partner jealous and create tension in the relationship. The lack of privacy on social networking sitess make it easy for others to access information about a significant other. In their research on jealousy and social media, Muise et al (2009) found that the more time a person spent on Facebook, the more jealousy they experienced. Gender can also have an effect on jealousy in a relationship. Women tend to be more jealous of emotional infidelity than men and men tend to be more jealous of sexual infidelity than women (Buunk & Dijkstra, 2004).

Social Media and Romantic Relationship Dissolution

Not all relationships are sustainable and will eventually come to an end. There are many reasons for relationships to end such as infidelity, lack of effort, physical or emotional distance, etc. Another cause for a breakup between couples can be caused by the amount of opposition from the other partner’s friends and family (Parks, Stan & Eggert, 1983). Dissolution of relationships with romantic partners have been known to lead to distress and depression (Lukacs, 2012). After the dissolution of the relationship there may still be uncertainty about the future of the relationship if the partners still remain “friends” on Facebook (Fox & Warber, 2013). When breaking up with a significant other there may be verbal and nonverbal behavior that can foreshadow upcoming dissolution (Weisskirch & Delevi, 2013). Seeing a partner start to post on members of the opposite sex’s wall or deleting pictures with their partner may be signs that foreshadow the end of a relationship.

Using Technology to End a Relationship

Although it is typically not acceptable, sometimes partners will end a relationship over a telephone call, text message, or with a social networking sites. Breaking up over the phone can be looked at as term avoidance via distant communication (Weisskirch & Delevi, 2013). This means that the partner chooses not to deal with the intensity of breaking up with face-to-face communication so they choose to do it with mediated communication. This method of relationship dissolution is usually frowned upon and is not widely accepted as a socially acceptable way to terminate a relationship. The duration of the romantic relationship can have an affect on the manner in which one terminates the relationship. If the couple has been together less than 3 months it is sometimes seen as more acceptable to end the relationship via text, call, or with social networking sites.

After the Break Up

When partners break up social networking sites can be a cause for concern because the relationship is still imprinted into Facebook in a number of ways. After the couple has broken up and changed their relationship status there can still be artifacts from the relationship left on social media such as pictures together, messages, etc. Some people choose to do a type of cleanse of the relationship on social media and delete all of the evidence of the relationship.Even if the person chooses to defriend the previous partner on social networking sites it is still possible for that person to appear on the other’s profile because of mutual friends (Fox, Osborn & Warber, 2014). Some people choose to keep the remaining evidence on their social networking sites Some may choose to defriend any mutual friend they have with their past partner to ensure the person does not show up on their Facebook page anymore.

Facebook can also be a place for the partner’s friends and peers to show support towards them after the relationship has ended. Comments or messages to someone’s profile expressing sympathy is a common way for a person to show support on Facebook after a breakup occurs.


After gaining a better understanding of social networking sites effect on romantic relationship’s development, conflicts, and dissolutions it appears that social media can have both positive and negative effects on relationships. Social networking sites can positively affect a romantic relationship in that if both partners agree to publish the relationship that it can help partners feel more secure in their relationship. Facebook can also help boost a person’s individual presentation by acknowledging the relationship. The negative effects that social media can have on romantic relationships seem to be more prevalent when there is insecurity and uncertainty in the relationship. Partners who find themselves feeling uncertain and insecure in their relationships often use Facebook and other social networking sites for surveillance on their partner. Tokugnaga (2011) explained that the amount of time a person spends on social networking sites can help determine how much they use their social media for surveillance. Once the relationship reaches a significant imbalance in their relational dialectics then it can cause the dissolution of the relationship and even then social media can still affect the relationship. It is still uncertain exactly how big of a role that social media plays in the development, maintenance, and dissolution of romantic relationships but after a brief review of literature and research on this topic it is clear that social media is a contributing factor in many of the aspects of a relationship.


Bowe Greg. (2010). Reading romance: The impact Facebook rituals can have on a romantic relationships. Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology, (2068-0317).

Fox J, Osborn J, Warber K. (2014). Relational dialectics and social networking sites: The role of Facebook in romantic relationship escalation, maintenance, conflict, and dissolution. Computers in Human Behavior.

Utz S, Buekeboom C. (2011). The Role of Social Network Sites in Romantic Relationships: Effects on Jealousy and Relationship Happiness. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication

Weissikirch R, Delevi R. (2013). Attachment style and conflict resolution skills predicting technology use in relationship dissolution. Computers in Human Behavior. 29(6).

Parks M, Stan C, Eggert L. (1983). Romantic Involvement and Social Network Involvement. Social Psychology Quarterly. 46(2).

Lukacs V. (2012). It’s Complicated: Romantic Breakups and Their Aftermath on Facebook. Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository.

Farrugia R. (2013). "Facebook and Relationships: A Study of How Social Media Use is Affecting Long-Term Relationships." Rochester Institute of Technology.

Muise Amy, Christofides Emily, Desmarias Serge. (2009). More Information than You Ever Wanted. Does Facebook Bring Out the Green-Eyed Monster of Jealousy? Cyberpsychology & Behavior. 12.

Tokunaga Robert. (2010). Social networking site or social surveillance site? Understanding the use of interpersonal electronic surveillance in romantic relationships. Computers in Human Behavior. 27(2).

Fox J, Warber K. (2014). Social networking sites in romantic relationships: Attachment, uncertainty, and partner surveillance on facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 17(1).

Zhao S, Grasmuck S, Martin J. (2008). Identity construction on Facebook: Digital empowerment in anchored relationships. Computers in Human Behavior. 24(5).

Ellison N, Steinfield C, Lampe C. (2007). The Benefits of Facebook “Friends:” Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 12(4).

Buunk B, Dijkstra P. (2004). Gender differences in rival characteristics that evoke jealousy in response to emotional versus sexual infidelity. Personal Relationships. 11(4).

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

Research shows conflicting results when relaying how personality traits play into successful and satisfying romantic relationships. The focus has been on trait similarity (i.e. the “Birds of a Feather” concept) without a clear answer, with very little research supporting the “Opposites Attract” concept. Additional... MORE»
This study focused on why the act of taking selfies and posting them to the Internet is a factor leading to an increase in narcissistic and selfish behaviors. This study examined whether the Millennial Generation believes the selfie phenomenon is a contributor to the rise in narcissism. A 12-item survey was administered to 93 female... MORE»
Facebook fan pages allow a brand to create an online community of brand users through the social networking site. By pressing Facebook's "like" button, a Facebook user can become a fan of the page and can interact with the brand and other consumers. This research aimed to examine whether liking and interacting with a Facebook fan... MORE»
Twitter. Facebook. Digg. MySpace. LinkedIn. The list of social media tools could probably run on for paragraphs, and today’s technology changes so rapidly that many industries, including corporations and news media... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow IJ

Latest in Psychology

2022, Vol. 14 No. 06
Change blindness is the finding that people often fail to notice substantial changes between different views of a visual scene. The current study investigated the effect of mood states on people’s ability to detect changes, by comparing participants... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 05
The prevalent school of thought states that suicidal ideation and suicide planning are not associated with living in households with firearms. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) in the years... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 04
Marion Godman makes the argument that Pathological Withdrawal Syndrome (PWS) makes the case for psychiatric disorders as a natural kind. Godman argues that we can classify kinds according to their shared ‘grounding’, but we need not... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 03
The study investigated stress, coping strategies, and problem-solving skills among college students. A total of 202 university students completed this study. The purpose of this study was to address gaps in the existing literature regarding stress... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 12
Political polarization has been an increasingly salient point of discussion since the 2016 presidential campaign, the election of Donald Trump, and into today. Beyond emphasizing partisan and issue-based divides, scholars have identified emotion... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 04
The question of what it means to be a gendered individual has been left unanswered in light of its variants. The feminist movement proceeding the Industrial Revolution propelled philosophical and literary works, such as Simone de Beauvoir’... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 03
Positive affect (PA) is active, enthusiastic, and happy engagement in pleasurable activities and negative affect (NA) includes aversiveness, anger, and fear (Watson et al., 1988). Two studies examined linguistic affect presented as emotion words... Read Article »

What are you looking for?


How to Manage a Group Project (Video)
What is the Secret to Success?
7 Big Differences Between College and Graduate School