Mark, a 20-something client, came to see me recently because he couldn’t stop thinking about his ex-girlfriend. After few sessions of therapy he revealed his habit of jumping on his computer and looking at his ex’s Facebook page after a night out. Not surprisingly this left him feeling hurt and sad, thinking that his ex-girlfriend now had a much better life than he did.
Facebook is a novel and entertaining way keep in touch with what’s happening in the lives of others. Facebook also allows access to more personal information than perhaps any previous medium.
A recent study in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking looked at whether time on Facebook was related to jealousy in romantic relationships. They found that increased time on Facebook was indeed associated with increased jealousy, but could not determine whether increased jealousy might lead to more time on Facebook (a feedback loop).
They argued that it was common among Facebook users to be very open in describing their lives, but that a lack of context opened information to ambiguity, and probably contributed to how others viewed their pages and the conclusions they drew from them.
Among the participants in the Facebook study, over 70 per cent said that they would be at least somewhat likely to add an ex-romantic or sexual partner as a friend. More than 90 per cent said that they did not know some of their partner’s friends.
“It turns people into nosy parkers,” said one.
“I was already a bit jealous and secure but Facebook has made me much worse,” said another.
“It can contribute to feelings of not really knowing your partner,” said another.
People use Facebook to show the best side of themselves. But people are presenting only one side of themselves, a fact that can easily be forgotten when in a low mood.
Once Mark had noticed the thoughts and feelings associated with viewing his ex-girlfriend’s page, he made the decision to forgo the short-term bittersweet feeling of knowing what his ex was doing and what was happening in her life, so that he could focus on building a long-term future without her.
He decided to “delete” her as a friend. This will not be the solution for everybody, but it is worth giving serious thought to the effects viewing Facebook has, if you consistently notice a low or jealous mood afterwards.
Dr Mary Grogan is a clinical psychologist and director of Change it psychology in Auckland, New Zealand. Find out more at changeit.co.nz