Are You Tweeting Away Your Relationships?

Study says Twitter obsession can hurt real-life bonds

Couple using cell phones

If you use the microblogging platform Twitter a lot, your real-life connections might be in danger. A new study says that too much tweeting can damage your intimate relationships.

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Researchers at the University of Missouri surveyed nearly 600 people with Twitter accounts. The participants told researchers they are on Twitter for nearly an hour a day, five days a week. On Twitter, users give and receive advice, gather and share information and meet new people.

The researchers then linked this behavior to the amount of conflict, cheating and even breakups between the participants and their significant others.

Can you be addicted to social media? Absolutely, says  Scott Bea, Psy.Da psychologist in Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. Dr. Bea did not take part in the study, which appears in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

“The study looked at people who, by and large, express that they use Twitter a lot – on the average, about 52 minutes a day. That’s a lot,” Dr. Bea says. “And their relationships suffer as a result of that involvement.”

Keep coming back

Social media addiction is similar to a gambling addiction in that you keep coming back, hoping to win, says Dr. Bea.

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With Twitter, the thrill may happen when someone responds or repeats your post. Or you might get giddy when someone ‘favorites’ your posts, which indicates they like what you’ve said. You might love watching the number of your followers increase.

“You can start chasing that good feeling or chasing that excitement and over-invest in it,” Dr. Bea says. “And just like with a gambler’s addiction, you don’t get paid off every time. You only get paid off once in a while and that makes a strong allegiance to that slot machine.”

The researchers say the study has some limitations. One was the acknowledgement that a number of variables can contribute to relationship infidelity and separation. Another is that the sample included participants who were told before starting the survey that they would be answering questions regarding Twitter use and romantic relationship outcomes. This may have skewed the data, the researchers say.

Another limitation was that some items were left to participants’ interpretation, such as the word “excessive” when answering questions about Twitter-related conflict. 

Conflict is a symptom

If you and your significant other experience conflict over social media – whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest – consider the conflict a symptom of relationship problems, not the cause, Dr. Bea says.

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If you overuse social media, that can lead mistrust with your partner. He or she might wonder what’s so interesting that it’s taking time away from your relationship. So sharing social media accounts may help.

But, Dr. Bea says, the best approach is to make time for the in-real-life people who are important to you.

“Imagine what the payoff would be if you invested 52 minutes a day actively listening to your loved ones,” Dr. Bea says. “It might not excite your brain at the same level, but it would probably create bonds, help with problem-solving and probably predict greater longevity for the relationship.”


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