Once upon a time, relationships were largely private interactions between two people. We of course would hear gossip down the line, or know of the circumstances of those closest to us….. but most everyone else was in the dark about the particulars. However, the introduction of Facebook (and other social media sources) has drastically altered many aspects of relationships—which is to be expected when there is an available audience for what should otherwise be something intimate and private. At times, instead of being a relationship between two people, it can become something opened to the rest of the world, and even in a way about, and for that audience. In reality, Facebook does not destroy relationships. It just brings to light what is wrong with them. Problem indicators can be helpful warning signs.
Over the years I have heard countless clients detail relationship interactions on Facebook—including using it (or others using it), as a manipulation tool. They put great importance on what happens, and does not happen on those public walls, and sometimes even break-up with others over perceived slights and omissions. When a client mentions Facebook, I can’t help but have an, “Oh no, here we go….”….response. What follows is rarely something healthy, or good for the relationship situation.
In what ways does a person’s Facebook activity reveal problems, and potentially self-focused/ manipulative intentions? Many. This article will detail warning signs, and explore the areas of seeking personal validation, manipulation methods, and issues with public break-ups. Bare with me, there is a lot of ground to cover…but those armed with the following information may be able to avoid problematic situations and heartbreak.
Relationships are obviously very personal and intimate connections….they involve two people sharing of themselves with each other, creating a bond, and possibly even striving to build a life together. However, things can become distorted when people see relationships as a vehicle to gain attention and validation from others. Too often people have idealistic notions of what love is about. They glamorize things in their heads, and fantasize over engagement photos and dream wedding plans in exaggerated, single-focus ways (which in itself is a warning sign—marriage is not just about a single, sparkly attention-receiving day). They view a relationship (or rather someone loving them), as a way to gain adoration and attention from others. In much the way some people may feel good about receiving recognition from special achievements (degrees earned, skills mastered, awards, career advancement etc…), some people view relationships as the ultimate method to gain attention (for themselves), display achievement/success, and even somehow receive a form of personal validation. “Look, this person loves me, so that means I am special and successful.” In a sense, it sometimes becomes more about them, the other person loving them, and getting attention from others (and getting to act out their fantasy notions of love)….than about the relationship itself, and truly loving the other person. At times it can reveal a lack of respect and understanding of the true meaning, and importance of that kind of bond and commitment. It can even result in using people.
There is a distinct difference between sharing joy and special events with people, and “showing off”. It typically becomes obvious to those viewing, because it becomes prolonged, and over-done. It is expected and understandable at initial onsets (when people are excited, and want to share the news), or to share special events (anniversary, vacation, holidays), but when someone posts constant pictures of even mundane moments (“Look, here we are folding clothes! Aren’t we the happiest couple ever!?”), and appear to do so with the expectancy, and hope of approval/ feedback from others… it telegraphs more as someone wanting to see others admiring, and verifying them (and the relationship). Pay attention if a person seems to view their friends and followers as a personal fan base, and if they assume that everyone is waiting with baited breath to admire relationship updates.
Some people think that sharing lots of pictures and cutesy things will prove to everyone how happy and perfect their relationship is, but often those viewing see the opposite (and become less likely to click the like button as they watch the pattern unfold). It comes across as insecure, and as needing to prove how great things are. In reality, most secure couples do not have the need to telegraph every moment together, or share intimate exchanges on their public walls—the relationship is about them, not the rest of the world (thus there is no need to have their relationship approved or admired by the world to make it good, real, or a happy situation). When you are solidly sure of something, you do not need to prove it, or convince others.You certainly do not see it as a source for personal admiration. I have distinctly noticed that it is largely younger clients who struggle with the misuse of Facebook when it comes to their relationships, which really is not surprising all things given.
It is always smart to pay attention to how someone portrays your relationship in public/ on social media to others— it can serve as a means to reveal if their relationship focus is really on the important factors, or if it is something more self-serving, and about gaining attention and validation. Even if the issue stems from having low self-esteem or self-worth, it still is a negative sign. Relationships involving people who are depending on the other person (and relationship) to help them form an identity, and a soul source of happiness…. are rarely lasting because they are formed for the wrong reasons, and are not balanced. Scratch the sparkly surface, and unpleasant things will be discovered. Sometimes people are more in love with the idea of being loved, and assuming that others (again), will see them as being special because of that.
Things to pay attention to?
*Do they seem to overly anticipate, and watch for “like” clicks and comments from others after posting things involving the two of you?
*Does it really make them excited when lots of people respond– and on the flip side–do they complain, and seem upset or negatively affected when not many people have “liked”, or given feedback to a post? (Huge sign that they put a lot of focus on the attention from others, rather than the relationship itself).
*Does it frequently feel like they are looking for opportunities to take pictures for the purpose of showing others ( instead of for personal memories), and do you ever feel like special intimate moments are being interrupted because they want to take pictures, or post something to the public about what the two of you are doing (essentially bringing others into your personal moments)?
*Do they make you stage things/ events for the purpose of creating pictures to display to others? Meaning, instead of going with the natural flow and course of things, do they want to make things “just so”, and seem more focused about how it will look to others, rather than creating special moments and memories just for the two of you?
*Do they alter details about events and circumstances that they share (exaggerate, blur, omit, or even flat-out fabricate), in order to make it (and the relationship) seem more appealing, romantic, and exciting to others?
*Do they share private details about you (or the relationship) to the public that you otherwise would not want shared, and without your permission? Do they dismiss you if you address them about those issues, or continue those practices after you have asked them to have more discretion (which indicates they are favoring public attention more than your feelings, privacy, and comfort levels)?
*Do they rarely post pictures of just themselves, or you alone? Are all of their posted pictures focused on the two of you together, even their profile picture? Such as—do they feel they have to always display themselves as connected to you, and remind people they are connected to you? Do they appear to no-longer have an individual identity?
*Do they get upset with you if your profile picture is only of you, and not the two of you? Do they seem agitated when you post things not involving them, or if others tag you/post things on your wall ( due to not being involved, or feeling like it is detracting from the posts about your relationship)? Do they express that they think others will assume that you do not really love, or are committed to them… if you do not include them in most everything you present on Facebook?
*If you, or others post on your wall about something not involving them, do they follow it with posts of their own seeking to push the other posts down, and steer attention back to them (or the relationship) in some way?
*Do they get upset if you do not share pictures and events involving the two of you? Do they press you, apply guilt, become emotional, or any other tactics to get you to share things on your end on Facebook? Do they have negative reactions if you do not click like, or comment on the pictures they post of the two of you, even if you have already seen them previously?
*Are the majority of their posts and pictures about the relationship? Is there a lack of balance, or little else they seem to have to connect their identity to, even after the new “honey moon” period has passed? ( That kind of single-focus is typically not a sign of utter devotion, but rather that there are unhealthy elements involved. )
A couple of years ago a male friend shared with me that he had come to realize that he often felt like he was a character in a play that his girlfriend was putting on for others, and to enact the fantasies she had previously constructed. He felt like much of what they did together was more about gaining material to show-off to others, and to present a dream relationship others would envy, rather then being about the two of them truly connecting. Anything he wanted, or did that did not fit in with her fantasy visions and what she wanted to present, was met with guilt trips, dark moods, and even accusations of not really loving her… until he was worn down into conceding and playing along in order to keep her happy, and maintain the relationship. She was unable to alter her pre-established relationship game-plan to adjust to the actual person she was with (and what his needs, preferences, and interests were), in large part because her plans were focused on creating the appearance of love for others to admire, and filling in the blank with someone…. rather than truly exploring and creating unique experiences focused on just the two of them. Sadly, it is a scenario I have seen many times, but most often people do not gain the awareness that man had, but rather play into it without recognizing the warning signs that indicate focus is not being given to what should truly be important in order for the relationship to be solid and lasting. People sometimes are willing to hand themselves over (and do things they normally would not do) to make someone else happy, all in the hope that it will result in maintaining the relationship, and in-turn being happy themselves. People ignore warning signs because they so desperately want the situation to work, and to not have to go back to being alone.
The ironic thing is, the majority of like-clicks and comments do not really prove, or validate anything. Most people will blindly click like and say “Congrats!” on anything that involves a happy event or milestone, regardless if they do not have any actual knowledge of the situation, or of the people involved….thus it doesn’t prove much beyond people being nice. I saw the proof of this first-hand. Last year for April Fool’s day, an old friend ( internet-based, lives across country etc…) and I posted a prank engagement to each other. I had recently made a reference about being single on my wall, and had never indicated anything about being in a relationship. Anyone could have looked at our profiles to see the different states, and large age difference…..not to mention the announcement date itself should have made it obvious that it was a prank. However, I awoke to discover a bounty of like clicks, and well wishes from people connected to both of us. We were both baffled that anyone had believed it, because we had assumed people would just respond with, “ha ha nice try”…… and yet, people automatically clicked like because they saw notice of a life event, and wanted to be nice…..and they did so without even looking at the obvious factors which revealed that it was a fake scenario. Thus, when someone puts a lot of focus and importance on social media responses and validation, they really are putting more value on empty automatic clicks and sentiments than on focusing on developing a true, secure relationship.
Unfortunately, Facebook is a great tool to use to manipulate relationships, because when other people are viewing, it creates pressure and expectations that would not exist if the relationship was developed in privacy. Many people are fully aware of this, and thus use that audience to their advantage to push their agendas. There are many tactics and forms of manipulation, and often it can be difficult to see what the real intention is due to the sugar coating.
Clients report posting comments and hints about activities with someone (tagging them so it goes on their wall as well) they are dating in order to make others curious and aware, and thus to push the other towards commitment. It can be hard to really make a choice about a relationship for your own self once others start asking questions about it, showing approval, and even appear to be rooting for the relationship to develop (however, yet again, it usually is simply people being “nice” rather than having specific, personal opinion). Many people understand that making something public helps to “cinch” the relationship and push it forward due to the creation of awareness and expectations. It is harder for someone to decline, or back out of a situation once it has been made public. Thus, it is involving other people into what should be private and intimate choices. It is especially concerning if someone starts pushing things on Facebook not long into dating, or before there has even really been a chance to get to know each other (let alone determine if it is going to be a committed situation). Premature public sharing indicates that someone is over-eager to make things happen without even knowing if it is the right match, and also (once again) desire attention from others (thus they likely have those distorted self-serving reasons and love idealization at play). Over and over, I have seen people freak-out ( men and women alike) when someone they have only started to date and consider, starts posting on Facebook. The smart ones understand that it is not about someone being madly in love with you (especially when they barely know you yet), but rather signals large warning signs of many potential problems and twisted intentions. People desperate to have relationship perks and attention, and to be “filled”… push for things from the get-go, while those who are focused on truly getting to know someone, and insuring that a situation is solid and a right fit…. take time to make their choices, and do not see a need to involve the public, let alone to let others factor into something that is so personal and important.
Love Bombing. Love bombing is a clinical description for those who hit hard and heavy early into new relationships in order to try to secure the situation fast. They want to convince the other person that they are perfect, everything they need and dream of, and that they are so in love with them, and are offering the best thing that they will ever find. They shower compliments, sentiments, instant claims of being soulmates… and typically will do all of this from all angles, and on all platforms possible. Text messages, calls, emails, pinterest, facebook….. it all becomes tools that can be used to smother the person with “love”… even if things are still very new, and much is still unknown about each other (and if they are truly compatible). They post memes and quotes to display and prove their love and devotion, and again, also involve the public because they want to convince everyone else how much they love, and how perfect they are for that person as well.
The intense sudden showering of “love” can create powerful reactions in people, especially if they were previously very lonely. It also can make them doubt their own hesitations and concerns, because the other person strives to convince them that they love them so much that it has to be a sure thing, and that they are wrong to question something so obvious. Thus, why it is called “love bombing”. Gas Lighting is also the technical name used for manipulations that aim to make a person doubt their own feelings and perceptions. People who use these tactics often suddenly stop with the lovey quotes and hearts once they feel the relationship is “in the bag”…..but will pull it all out again if ever the other person starts to express doubt, or attempts to end things. They once again want to steamroll, and twist them around into thinking their concerns are not real, and that they will be walking away from someone so loving (when in reality, love bombing and gas lighting are used as intentional emotional manipulations that disrespect the boundaries, thoughts, feelings, and choices of others… it is all very self-serving, and reveals a lot about a person when they use those tactics). It makes it all the more difficult for the person when all of those sentiments are shared in view of others, at a time that they are considering ending the relationship. The manipulator knows this. They understand that if they post huge displays of love, that it could potentially make the other person look bad in the eyes of others if they appear to suddenly leave the relationship not long after (and many people will stay in unhealthy situations due to fearing negative public reaction, or people thinking they are a bad/ selfish person if they leave). It can all serve to corner someone, and make them even feel guilty for having doubted the other—and thus they lose trust in their own self in favor of what the other person wants to convince them to feel and believe.
Personal sentiments. Some things just truly are only meant to be shared between the couple. However, some view posting those kind of things in the view of others as another way to “cinch” the relationship, and validate things. They post, ” I love you” and intimate mooshy things that otherwise should be a private exchange not involving (or about) anyone else. However, posting it in public means that not only are they showing-off their “love”, and attempting to prove to others how much they love the other….. but they essentially set the other person up in a way that they too have to respond, and say, “I love you” back to them in front of others—all of their family, friends, and professional colleagues. It exploits the relationship, and feelings that should be intimate. It again reveals that someone wants to gain attention via the fact that someone loves them. Those kind of “shares” also again serve to love bomb the person, create public awareness, and make it hard for them to back out of the relationship. Ultimately there really is no healthy reason to share personal exchanges like that with the public…. there almost always is a self-serving motive behind it. “If he says it back to me in front of others, it will prove both to me...and everyone else… that this is all real, and he really loves me! He will never be able to leave me if he says it in front of everyone!” Once again, when a relationship, and the feelings involved are secure…. there is no need or desire to prove it to others, let alone make the other prove it for us.
Irony can (yet again) be found in attempting to convince others of the existence of love via proclaiming it on Facebook. Most people know that those kind of things are supposed to be intimate and private, thus when it is posted in public…..it is obvious someone is seeking to prove, show-off, and receive validation. It essentially backfires via communicating to others that it is possibly an insecure situation. There is a reason people tend not to click like on those kind of posts, and maybe even make snarky, “Get a room”….or “ewww”….comments. Typically they are trying to hint that it is odd for those kind of exchanges to be put on public display, and thus involve others who should have nothing to do with the relationship. This is the reason why many have made a plethora of ecards communicating the obvious flaws seen when people over-telegraph their relationship. However, those who post the drippy sentiments are not only blinded as to why others will not see it as proof, and something to admire…. but that they also display to others their misguided, and shallow understanding of what (and who) love and relationships are really supposed to be about.
The loss of relationships can be some of our most difficult, and heart-breaking life experiences. There are many difficult emotions, personal details, situations, and choices involved. Break-ups often involve anger, heated exchanges, and having to face uncomfortable truths. It is difficult to sort through in private, let alone to have the situation play-out in public view of others. Essentially, Facebook can provide a billboard that disgruntled, vindictive people can use to air private details in front of everyone the other person knows.
People use facebook to gain validation and sympathy, especially when they are someone who is insecure to begin with, and cannot stand for anyone to think that the break-up was in any way their fault. They typically want to blast the other person in order to make them look like the evil one…. but also to hurt them in the form of potentially shaming them in full view of those whose opinions matter most to them, and maybe even to harm their professional relations, or future potential for relationships.
I cringe every time a client tells me of their revenge tactics they deploy on facebook. Some people are blatant, while others are passive aggressive with vague posts, rants, and quotes/ memes ….knowing full well other people will figure-out what it is all about. They typically have intent to stab virtual daggers into the other person, or want to attempt to make them feel guilty. Ironically, some people even do these things despite still hoping the person will change their mind and come back to them…. they think that all of the posts will somehow convince them that they made a mistake, or that they will even get back together with them in order to save face, and prove to others they really are not the horrible person depicted.
If someone previously love-bombed, and manipulated to show others how perfect and loving they were for that person, they then can attempt to use all of that established past public history to try to support their case, and get others involved. They want the attention of sympathy, they hope people will take their side, and in a way they often are manipulating people to question the other person and situation….. again for self-serving purposes of either validating that they are so good that someone would be crazy to leave them, the problem is not in them, or to try to get others involved in forcing the relationship to reconcile.
Scare tactics. Sometimes when a couple is having some kind of dispute, one will start posting comments and quotes making it sound like the relationship is over, and that they will be great on their own. They want to scare the person into thinking they are done, and will be fine and dandy without them (and of course will soon find someone else). They hope that those kind of posts will create panic in the other person to help scare them into dropping the dispute, as well as to make them do what they want. It is all about calling bluffs, and believing that they are capable of quickly moving on to someone else. I cannot even begin to estimate how many times I have tried to talk people out of posting not only the above tactics, but also using facebook to talk about fake dates, and other things suggesting that they have “already moved on”…. in hopes that the other person will see it, and come rushing back, and then do whatever they require to prevent the imaginary new relationship that sprung out of no where overnight. Usually these kind of manipulations are obvious and backfire, but unfortunately it does sometimes work on those who are terrified to be alone, and who are willing to concede even important things in order to maintain the relationship. When those kind of tactics succeed, it results in showing the manipulator that they have the control, and can easily influence, and scare the other into their agendas (and staying in unhealthy situations). In reality, people who truly are in love do not just switch gears like that, and quickly replace people. The only people capable of that, are those who did not truly love to begin with, or were only in love with the idea of being loved, and having their needs fulfilled (they typically cannot go very long without a “supply”, thus why those kind of people rarely last more than a couple months without being in a relationship, and quickly move on to someone else). Even threatening that they will soon find someone else, or inventing imaginary situations are red flags. If you find yourself frequently fearing that someone is capable of quickly finding someone new if you do not behave as they require(or that they are at risk of quickly leaving you if you do not always cater to/ appease them)…..then it is important to honestly consider the reasons for believing they are capable of that. It could provide you crucial (if difficult to accept) information about the truth of the situation and person.
Once again, often these public tactics serve to reveal true colors, and immaturity… and that someone is more concerned about their own self, and how they are viewed. Ironically, many who view public break-up displays will have the mental response of, “Whoa, its obvious why they had to break-up with that person!” Thus, if you fear breaking-up with someone because you know they will behave in a negative way, and publicly reveal private things, or bash you….. then you also deep down know the truth that there are a lot of problems in the situation, and with that person. It is also not worth staying simply because you fear how they will respond, and what others will think of you. You have to make choices based off of what is best, and healthy for you. It is not about anyone else. The public does not have to live with your choices.
So, where is the balance? How can relationships be managed on social media in ways that do not cause damage, push agendas, or manipulate?
Firstly, people do not have to completely abstain from sharing their relationship—its natural to want to share happy, and important life milestones with others. However, it is best to wait until things are solid, and appear to be certain. By waiting to change your public relationship status, you greatly reduce the risk of awkwardness that could occur if chicks were counted before they hatched, and proclaimed to the public. It also helps to avoid the pressure and expectations that result when a viewing audience factors into the very personal choices that are involved with relationships.
Secondly, avoid over-saturation of posting about the relationship. Again, doing so often telegraphs the opposite of what is hoped for, and people even get kind of numb to it when they see virtually the same pictures and posts posted over and over again….. and thus turn-off from maybe even noticing when something truly important is shared.
Thirdly, keep private sentiments…..private. There is absolutely no healthy reason to display those kind of things in view of others. It is not because people equate lovey displays/ interactions to something vulgar or negative….. it is because they understand that it diminishes something that is supposed to be sacred and intimate, and that should not be opened for others to view, or be involved with.
And last, avoid using a ready available audience to turn break-ups into reality drama for others to view, and judge. Even if you have been wronged, or hurt…..it is better to hold your head-up, and show grace in how you handle the situation. If you feel you have to communicate how that person hurt you, and is wrong…. do so in private with that person. Do not involve others who have absolutely nothing to do with the situation—it will not help your situation, or prove anything. It especially will not help anyone to telegraph those private matters and details in front of professional contacts. Consider quietly taking things down, and hiding your relationship status from public view for a while. It is okay if people see those changes, and understand that it means the relationship is over…..in fact, it serves as a way to communicate that without having to air dirty laundry, shame anyone, or make the circumstances more difficult. It really is not the business of others why choices were made to end a relationship.
If someone attacks you on facebook, it IS okay to unfriend and block them. It is not immature or petty to take protective measures when someone is actually harming you, not to mention if they are making others uncomfortable with public posts as well. If you fear someone might take that kind of action (but do not want to jump the gun on blocking them), you can change your account settings to review/ approve any posts or pictures that you are tagged in, or that are posted to your wall (that way it will minimize how many of your personal contacts see any “blasts” they do put out, and if they do post those kind of things on their own feed, you then could consider taking things a step further to unfriend, and block them).
Be smart. Insure that both you and your partner are completely focused on each other, and what is best for you both individually, and as a couple. If you find either yourself, or the other person revealing signs that things are overly focused on, and dependent on the attention, response, and opinions of others… then it should serve as something to investigate to determine if the relationship is really formed for the right reasons and factors. In a very real way, Facebook can serve as a tool to reveal problems and true intentions—which in turn could aid in preventing large mistakes and heartbreak.