Most of us know that people tend to display an idealized version of their lives on social media. Among the worst offenders are couples who endlessly profess their love for each other by uploading pictures of themselves living their best lives.
Yet many couples who seem have the perfect relationship on social media may actually be masking a darker side of their day to day lives. Social scientists believe that over-posting about your partner may actually be a symptom of relationship insecurity, according to a study published by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
For scientists, having very high “relationship visibility” online is a reflection of an anxious attachment to a partner that requires constant reassurance of commitment to the relationship. The study looked at 108 college couples over the course of two weeks and found that people tend to make their relationships more visible on social media when they feel insecure about their partner’s feelings.
Jennifer Chappell Marsh, a marriage and family therapist from San Diego, California, says she often sees couples display this behavior in her sessions. “Avoidant attached people tend to disengage and withdraw from their partners while anxiously attached people are almost always seeking reassurance about their relationship, even on social media. Oftentimes, they’re looking for positive attention in the absence of getting the reassurance from their partner.”
As an example, Chappell Marsh contrasted a couple enjoying a quiet dinner with one where everything needs to be photographed and posted by one of the partners. The need to make everything public may be greater if one partner seems standoffish.
“That disconnect triggers a spike in relationship anxiety for the anxious type,” Chappell Marsh says. “As a result, the insecure partner may take a relationship pic and post it on Facebook to get ‘likes.’ Oftentimes, they’re looking for positive attention in the absence of getting the reassurance from their partner.”
The other partner may get annoyed with the other for interrupting intimacy with endless social media interaction, says Zach Brittle, a therapist and founder of the online couple’s therapy series forBetter.
“The narrative about social media I hear the most in my office are complaints about one or both partners becoming addicted to their phones,” Brittle says. “Social media is an opportunity for people to turn away from the relationship and toward some other stimulus. It makes sense why people do it; there’s plenty of data about the dopamine hit that comes from getting ‘likes’ or reshares.”
Whether a person overshares for the thrill of the “likes” or as a result of insecurity about the relationship, there is no definitive reason why some people feel the need endlessly post about their relationship.
“The oversharer may be genuinely happy and want to express that via social media ― or they might feel they have something to prove to their peers or want to take the focus off other areas of their lives they feel insecure about,” says Danielle Kepler, owner of DK Therapy, a group practice in Chicago specializing in couples, who adds that people will normally smile in pictures regardless of whether they are happy or not.
In the end, it is human nature to want to show your best side. People in couples are no different, therefore regardless of a person’s relationship status, social media and reality do not often go hand in hand.