A study of young adult romantic couples in Quebec, Canada found that participants who displayed more jealousy of their romantic partner’s social media activity were also more likely to perpetrate violence towards that partner. Conversely, violence in a relationship is associated with increased jealousy on social media. The study was published in Telematics and Informatics.
The use of social media has exponentially grown in the past decades. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and others have allowed people to connect and stay connected worldwide in a way that was unimaginable in times before the advent of these media.
When romantic relationships are in question, social media use has been associated with several positive outcomes, such as higher relationship satisfaction, greater expression of affection, and easier maintenance of long-distance relationships.
However, studies have also recognized the dark side of social media. Social media activities have been found to be able to exacerbate online conflicts and created new sources of discord in romantic relationships. They have also proved to be favorable grounds for electronic surveillance of one’s partners, jealousy, and cyber-infidelity.
Of these negative effects of social media, study author Marianne Emond and her colleagues were particularly interested in longitudinal links between social media jealousy and offline perpetration of intimate partner violence. Young adults were selected as this age group was found to be the most likely to experience both of these.
“Considering that social media are taking an increasingly important place in our social lives, I find it important to examine how relational phenomena can be transposed online and the impacts this can have, both online and offline, within romantic relationships,” explained Emond (@EmondMarianne), a graduate student at the University of Montreal and member of the LIVE Lab.
“I am more specifically interested in the dark side of social media, how social media can be associated with negative relational consequences. I believe that greater awareness of the many ways in which social media can influence romantic relationships can help avoid some unwanted relationship consequences and promote healthier use of social media.”
Jealousy is “a complex of thoughts, feelings, and actions which follows threats to the existence or the quality of the relationship.” Social media can trigger or exacerbate feelings of jealousy as it provides a centralized place to access information about partner’s behaviors and social connection, while also facilitating contacts with former romantic partners and potential romantic rivals.
The nature of social media contents and communication, particularly the lack of context (e.g., pictures of people are often posted without information being available of the details of the relationship between those people or how the picture came to be taken) make misinterpretation of information easy. One previous study noted that 34% of young adults reported feeling jealous or unsure of their current relationship because of the way their partner interacted with others on social media.
The current study was a part of a larger longitudinal project examining the impact of digital technologies on youth’s romantic relationships. Participants in this study were young adults who, at the time of the first survey, reported being in a relationship. One year later, participants were invited by email to complete the same set of assessments again. Some of the participants participated with their partner, and some participated alone.
Participants completed assessments of social media jealousy i.e., jealousy associated with partner’s social media activity (Facebook Jealousy Scale) and perpetration of intimate partner violence. The violence assessment asked about the frequency with which the participant perpetrated psychological (e.g., “yelled, shouted, insulted, swore’’), physical (e.g., ‘‘slapped, pushed, grabbed”), and sexual (e.g., “insisted or used threats to have sex”) violence toward their romantic partner in the past year.
Participants reported spending a bit over two and a half hours on social media each day. A bit more than half of participants reported having perpetrated at least one instance of violent behavior in the past year. A bit less than 50% reported perpetrating psychological violence, 11% reported perpetrating physical violence, and 13% perpetrating sexual violence. On average, participants reported lower levels of social media jealousy in the second survey, but average intimate partner violence levels remained the same.
On the individual level, social media jealousy and intimate partner violence were highly stable between the two time points. Individuals’ levels of social media jealousy at the first survey predicted intimate partner violence levels at the second. However, individuals’ levels of intimate partner violence perpetration also predicted social media jealousy at the second survey.
“Our study demonstrated that there is a mutual influence between jealousy elicited by the partner’s activity on social media and the perpetration of violence in the romantic relationships,” Emond told PsyPost. “More specifically, the more an individual tends to feel jealous about their partner’s activity on social media, the more likely they will be to perpetrate violence in their relationship. Conversely, the more an individual perpetrates violence in their relationship, the more they will tend to feel jealous about their partner’s activity on social media.”
When partners were considered, higher levels of violence towards one’s partner at the first survey was associated with that partner showing lower levels of social media jealousy at the second survey. Partners living together reported higher levels of intimate partner violence, while participants who used social media more also tended to have higher levels of social media jealousy. Levels of perpetration of intimate partner violence were more stable between two surveys in women than in men.
“A surprising result of our study is that the more an individual perpetrates violence in their relationship, the less likely their partner will tend to feel jealous about their partner’s activity on social media one year later,” Emond explained. “In our study, we proposed two possible explanations for this surprising result.”
“1. In certain contexts, one’s partner’s violent behaviors could be perceived as a manifestation of their commitment and desire to protect the relationship. Thus, if violence is perceived as a proof of commitment from the partner, the individual may tend to be less insecure in the relationship and less likely to feel jealous over time.”
“2. It is possible that violence leads to a decrease in the quality of the relationship and in the victim’s satisfaction and commitment. In this case, the victim would care less about threats to the relationship, and therefore would be less likely to be jealous of the partner’s activity on social media.”
The study sheds light on an important aspect of psychological dynamics of romantic couples. However, it also has limitations that need to be taken into account. Notably, all participants were young. Studying other age groups might yield different results. Additionally, it is solely based on self-reports.
“In our study, we focused on the associations between social media jealousy and the perpetration of offline violence in general, without differentiating the different types of violence (psychological, physical, sexual),” Emond said. “It would be interesting, in future studies, to examine whether the association between social media jealousy and the perpetration of violence differs between the different types of violence and whether social media jealousy is also associated with the perpetration of violence online (i.e. cyberaggression).”
“I think the main take-away message is that social media have the potential to be harmful to romantic relationships, but it all depends on how they are used,” Emond added. “Social media can represent a particularly threatening context for romantic relationships and can arouse strong emotions, such as jealousy. Greater awareness of these risks could help avoid unwanted relationship consequences, such as violence, and thereby promote healthier use of social media.”
The study, “Social media jealousy and intimate partner violence in young adults’ romantic relationships: A longitudinal study”, was authored by Marianne Emond, Marie-Pier Vaillancourt-Morel, Sarafina Métellus, Audrey Brassard, and Marie-Ève Daspe.