Friday 30 January 2015

How to protect a relationship from pitfalls of Facebook era

Áilín Quinlan hears how a stream of 'look at this' photos, as well as private messaging, can spell trouble for couples

Dating experts Feargal Harrington and Rena Maycock of Intro

His 50th birthday was a big family celebration – but Joe* spent much of the party responding to work-related emails and checking Facebook.

The birthday boy's behaviour infuriated his wife, says psychologist Fergal Rooney.

"It had a significant impact on this social event and his wife was very annoyed, frustrated and embarrassed because she had to make excuses for him.

"She felt compromised and ashamed about what was a family occasion. It was quite a challenge to the relationship."

Joe, however, was utterly oblivious to the disapproval of his wife and family.

"He thought he was managing to engage in the family celebration and stay on top of work at the same time," says Fergal.

"He didn't see it as an issue that he was in and out of Facebook.

"This is one of the real difficulties that arise where couples have different perspectives on social media," says Fergal, who says there's a growing need for clarity between couples on the 'ground rules' for social media.

It was reported last that week that around 1.4 million Irish people now have access to a tablet – a 60pc jump in just six months – but there's also a downside.

Over the past few years relationship problems linked to social media use have landed with increasing frequency on Fergal's desk. He is the co-ordinator of the psychological services for healthy relationships and sexuality at St John of God's Hospital in Dublin's Stillorgan.

"We're seeing people whose relationships are in trouble or who are having difficulties maintaining a healthy relationship – and social media is a factor," he says.

Dating expert Feargal Harrington, who is a director of Intro matchmaking, says that the topic is increasingly cropping up in discussions with clients about failed relationships.

Up to 60pc of his company's clients in their 20s and 30s report that over-use of social media was a factor in the breakdown of a relationship.

"People tell us about the excessive time being spent on Facebook and Twitter either by themselves or their partners," says Feargal. "It means they weren't present in the relationship. Social media is a very big issue for lots of people."

"It's all about 'look at me now, and see how amazing my life is'. It's about one-upmanship."

But Feargal warns that while one partner or spouse may enjoy showing off, the other may feel uncomfortable at being 'tagged' or having photographs of themselves uploaded to Facebook, and a rift can develop.

There's also a growing mindset that a relationship is only as good as the Facebook photograph opportunities it creates – and the number of 'likes' and comments these attract, Feargal warns.

Irish Independent

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