At times, when you scroll through social media, you may be flooded with posts of seemingly happy couples sharing the best parts of their relationship, going on perfect dates, gushing over each other, getting engaged, and just simply being cute together.
You may see these types of posts described as #CoupleGoals or #RelationshipGoals, as something that every couple should strive for.
It is easy to find yourself looking at these posts and wondering, “This couple seems to have it all figured out,” and “Why don’t I have that?”.
Social media has made it easy for anyone to represent themselves in the most positive way possible, and this can also be extended to sharing about romantic relationships.
It is normal to find ourselves comparing our relationship to that of others, but is it healthy to compare to those who are #CoupleGoals, and can it damage your relationship?
Relationships on Social Media Can’t Be Trusted
Is it okay to compare your relationship to what you see on social media?
Below are seven reasons why you maybe should not be making comparisons to those who are #RelationshipGoals:
1. You’re only getting the highlight reels
While it may be obvious to point out, everything that someone posts on social media is intentional and is only what they want you to see.
If you are scrolling someone’s social media account and it is filled with photos of them with their partner cuddling, cooking together, laughing, and kissing, this can make you think this is what their relationship always looks like.
However, you are not seeing what happens before and after the photo is taken. You are not seeing the arguments that may have happened moments before the photo was taken, nor are you seeing the relationship insecurities that may persist (e.g., jealousy and trust issues).
People often like to display the positive aspects of their relationship online, which can leave onlookers with a sense that their relationship is perfect or does not have any issues. However, there may often be issues that are kept private.
Therefore, it is worth being mindful that what you see of someone’s relationship online might not be the full picture.
2. The relationship can be embellished on social media
If couples on social media are only posting photos from their vacations, fancy dates, and gifts they receive from each other, this presents an idealized version of their relationship.
If you are always seeing a couple on social media post photos like these all the time, you may feel that you and your partner are not doing enough.
However, most relationships are not this lavish. Behind the scenes, most of these couples are still doing grocery shopping, chores, and lazy days at home together, just like every other couple.
You also cannot believe everything you see on social media. It is possible that grand romantic gestures are staged in front of a camera for attention and more ‘likes’ on social media.
“Relationship content often makes me cringe from how contrived it is – is this a genuine portrayal of love or just a show put on for getting views?”Lara, age 27.
Captions on photos might use exaggerated language to portray a relationship that is always happy with few problems.
Imagine captions such as, ‘My boyfriend always knows what to do to make me feel special ❤️’ or ‘My girlfriend is perfect!! I couldn’t imagine anything better!’
If you think to yourself any of the following after reading these captions, you may be making unhealthy comparisons to other’s relationships:
My partner is not perfect in the slightest.
My partner doesn’t always know how to make me feel special.
My partner is not as good as their partner.
3. Unrealistic relationship expectations
Comparing your own relationship to what is portrayed on social media can distort your idea of what a relationship should be.
If you are only seeing the positive side of relationships on social media, you might feel like your own relationship is not as good because you sometimes experience relationship problems and are not living up to the “couple goals” posts.
It’s important to remember that your bond with your partner, with all its ups and downs, should not be compared to a carefully curated social media account.
“When I see other boyfriends posting their girlfriends online, it makes me feel unwanted. I’ve talked to him (boyfriend) but he just tells me it’s because he doesn’t post much at all. I’m on his Instagram in one post, which is something I guess. He also doesn’t like taking photos when we go out.”Female, 19 years old.
In this example, the girl is expressing that she wants her boyfriend to actively post about her on social media, when to him, he may not want to do this as he could be more of a private person.
She prefaces this concern by stating,
“For most of our relationship, I was insecure that he didn’t love me much or I loved him more.”
It could be that she struggles with feeling securely attached to her partner.
4. It can put pressure on your own relationship
Comparing your relationship to the ones you see on social media can put pressure on you in different ways.
You may feel pressured into always keeping the relationship ‘happy’ like the seemingly happy couples you see online.
Consequently, you may feel like your relationship problems are not normal and repress these very real feelings for the sake of keeping up appearances.
You might also feel pressured into always buying your partner expensive gifts or going on dreamy vacations to prove your love. You may also put this pressure on your partner, which is not fair on them.
Alternatively, you may feel pressured into staying in a relationship that is not working or is unhealthy out of fear of disappointing people who follow you on social media.
Or, if you are single, you may feel pressured into rushing into a relationship with someone who is not right for you just so you can share about it on social media.
5. You feel like you and your relationship are failing
Comparing your own relationship to ones depicted on social media often results in judging yourself and your partnership as inferior while holding other’s relationships as superior.
Seeing other couples constantly showcasing their romance online can make you feel unsatisfied or that there is something wrong with you or your partner.
Exposure to social media posts that are self-enhancing is potentially related to depressive symptoms (Uhlir, 2016).
Likewise, evidence suggests that social networking sites can have a negative impact on relationship dynamics, especially when the intimacy between partners decreases consequently (Bouffard et al., 2022).
Therefore, constant exposure to a couple’s highlights on social media and spending a lot of time looking at these posts may be detrimental to your self-esteem and the confidence you have in your relationship.
“I was watching a video where the boyfriend said to his girlfriend that he asked her to hang out because he finds her fun to be around, or something like that. That interaction felt cute and I would want that too (from my boyfriend)”Clare, 29 years old.
6. You feel like your relationship is ‘falling behind’
Seeing curated glimpses of relationships on social media can make your own feel like it is not keeping up in comparison.
If you are always seeing relationship progressions online, e.g., moving in together, getting engaged, and pregnancy announcements, you may feel as if you are left behind if you have not reached these milestones already.
Consequently, you may feel disappointed in your own relationship, be dissatisfied with the stage you are at, or even start arguments with your partner about the relationship’s progression.
Aria is scrolling on Instagram and sees a post from her old school friend Mia, who has announced she is engaged to her partner Nathan. Aria recalls that Mia and Nathan started dating several months after she and her own partner, Tyler, got together. Aria now feels as if her relationship with Tyler is not progressing quickly enough, and she starts ruminating on why Tyler has not proposed to her yet.
It’s worth noting that these milestones are not something every relationship should aim for, so there is no such thing as ‘falling behind’ in this respect. Every relationship is different, so comparisons to what others are doing are not helpful.
Even if you genuinely want to reach specific relationship milestones, you should not race against others to get there.
7. People may use social media as a mask for their real struggles
For some couples who post on social media, they could be portraying an idealized relationship as a mask for their problems.
Some couples may present a façade of constant happiness, stability, and romantic gestures online while dealing with issues such as financial stress, conflicts, infidelity, or a lack of genuine connection to each other.
If a couple is so consumed with portraying their relationship as perfect on social media, they might not be saving room for actual relationship growth outside of social media.
Social platforms allow people to have control over their image, meaning they can hide their relationship troubles behind positive photos.
The reality is that you never know the whole story based on what you see about a couple online, so it is important not to make assumptions that others have a perfect relationship based on what they are choosing to make public.
How to stop comparing your relationship with those on social media
Research has suggested that those who are less likely to engage in relationship comparisons report higher relationship satisfaction (Gürsoy & Özkan, 2023).
Below are some steps you can take to help you disengage from comparisons on social media and focus on your own relationship satisfaction.
Limit time on social media
The simplest way to stop comparing your relationship with those seen on social media is to limit the time you spend on social media.
Limiting the amount of time you spend scrolling through posts about other people’s relationships will reduce the constant exposure to curated content that is often designed to elicit comparisons.
You will be less likely to judge your own relationship to the standard of others and have more time to focus on your partner.
Spending less time on your phone, in general, can be beneficial to a relationship. A study investigating 470 married adults found that those who often spent more time on their phone than engaging with their partner had lower marital satisfaction (Wang & Zhao, 2022).
Identify specific triggers
What triggers you to start negatively comparing your relationship to others?
It can be helpful to determine what exactly you are sensitive to when it comes to viewing content about others’ relationships on social media.
The next time you feel pangs of envy or doubt when viewing a couple’s social media post, try to pinpoint exactly what triggered it.
- Is it the way the couple is looking deep into each other’s eyes?
- Is it the types of extravagant dates they are going on?
- Is it the caption proclaiming their undying love for each other?
An awareness of what triggers you can help you to avoid this pattern of making negative comparisons. You can counter these feelings by reminding yourself of the reasons why you should not compare your relationship to those you see online and appreciate what you and your partner have.
Unfollow unhelpful accounts
If you find that you are constantly feeling triggered by seemingly perfect couples on social media, you can consider unfollowing accounts that regularly incite negative comparisons.
You can unfollow influencer couples who constantly post over-the-top romantic gestures and affection towards each other. Additionally, you can unfollow friends who only share exciting highlights of their relationship but never the daily struggles.
By unfollowing accounts that frequently make you feel like your relationship is lacking, you may find the comparisons are reduced.
Instead, you can try to follow accounts that portray authentic relationships with all their ups and downs – something that is more relatable and can remind you that your relationship is normal.
Be more present in your relationship
By completing the above steps, you should find that you have more time to be more present in your own relationship than being preoccupied with the relationships of others.
While it was not helpful to make comparisons between your relationship and those of others, you can still be mindful of anything that your relationship needs to grow.
For example, if you think your relationship would genuinely benefit from more regular date nights, you can work with your partner to make this happen. Dates can be a great way to focus attention on each other and ask meaningful questions while engaged in an enjoyable activity.
But remember to be fully present on the dates and do not jump to share photos of the date on social media!
When you are focused on actively nurturing your own connection, you have less time to dwell on what others are doing or what others will think of your relationship.
Instead of falling into the trap of comparing your relationship to couples on social media and fixating on what you think your relationship lacks, shift your mindset by intentionally appreciating what your relationship strengths are.
Make a daily habit of reflecting on your partner and what you are grateful for. You may even start to notice little behaviors that you did not pick up on before.
- Does your partner always try to make you laugh?
- Do they buy your favorite snack when they’re out?
- Are they supportive of your goals?
Voicing your gratitude to your partner shows that you notice their acts of love and can nurture your bond.
No relationship is continuously smooth, but having an attitude of gratitude can make it easier to work through conflicts.
Follow your own relationship path, whatever that may been
Instead of being an observer of other people’s relationship paths, focus on your own relationship timeline.
While you may be seeing social media posts of friends following the traditional trajectory of getting married and having children by a certain age, that does not mean you and your partner should strive for the same thing or feel ‘left behind’ if you have not reached these milestones yet.
The healthiest of relationships follow natural growth based on the couple’s own values and goals, not external benchmarks. Comparisons can lead to rushing important stages before you or your partner are ready.
Let us think back to Aria, who felt like her relationship with Tyler was not progressing fast enough after seeing that her friend had recently gotten engaged. Instead of feeling the need to also get engaged, if she took some time to reflect on her relationship, she may find that she and Tyler are happy as they are. They may feel like marriage is not something that is completely necessary for their relationship, and so they should not feel pressured into taking this step just because others are.
Keep in mind that each relationship path is different and there is no right way or deadline that you must meet. Couples can decide on their own unique journey they want to take together.
Bouffard, S., Giglio, D., & Zheng, Z. (2022). Social media and romantic relationship: Excessive social media use leads to relationship conflicts, negative outcomes, and addiction via mediated pathways. Social Science Computer Review, 40(6), 1523-1541.
Gürsoy, B. E., & Özkan, B. Ö. (2023). Social networking sites and relationship social comparison: Effect of relational and individual factors.
Uhlir, J. L. (2016). Social comparison and self-presentation on social media as predictors of depressive symptoms.
Wang, X., & Zhao, K. (2023). Partner phubbing and marital satisfaction: The mediating roles of marital interaction and marital conflict. Social Science Computer Review, 41(4), 1126-1139.