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Article • Facebook and Couple: Jealousy, When You Hit me

24 October 2017
Sophie D. Morin
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☛ Cette chronique est aussi disponible en français [➦].

Translated by Manon Defrasne

Over the last decade, the era of social media has been marked by Facebook’s rise to power. Since its creation, Facebook has continued to prosper, calculating approximately 1.32 billion active users per day (Facebook, 2017a). In Canada, moreover, 93% of people aged 18 to 34 use this social network. However, it would be wrong to assume that millennials are the only generation to be connected. Yet, 69% of Canadians aged 65 and above have a Facebook account (Sherpa Marketing, 2014). Facebook is, without a doubt, a cross-generational phenomenon.

As many know, Facebook maintains the objective to “promote sharing among people and making a more open and connected world” (Facebook, 2017b). Facebook allows its users to “keep in touch with their friends and family […] and to share and express what’s important to them” (Facebook, 2017b). From its most basic foundation, the goal of this social network is to allow users to acquire information that would otherwise not be accessible outside a virtual reality. In terms of forging romantic relationships, this conception of virtual reachability can possess factors that interfere with the dynamics of relationships (Muise et al. 2013).

As a matter of fact, having access to romantic-related information—such as photos, friendships and comments on the partner’s Facebook page—exposes the user to content that could potentially provoke jealousy (Muise et al., 2009).

Given that several definitions of jealousy exist, romantic jealousy will be defined in this article as: “actions that follow threats to self-esteem and/or threats to the existence or quality of the relationship” (White, 1981). Moreover, jealousy can provoke several distinct emotions in individuals, such as “fear, sadness, frustration, hostility, discomfort, loneliness and heartache ” (Sharpsteen and Kirkpatrick, 1997). In some cases, jealousy can also lead to depression. These emotional upsets can also be followed by domestic difficulties, such as verbal or physical abuse. Indeed, a decrease in relational satisfaction and an increase in conflicts are potential consequences of romantic jealousy. These relationship problems can thus lead to separation or divorce (Fleischmann et al., 2005). However, before ending a relationship, a jealous individual may adopt a strategy to keep their partner. Oftentimes, these strategies can be harmful. If the strategy fails, violence often appears to be the only viable solution in order to control their partner (Shackelford et al., 2005). Daly and Wilson (1988) claim that jealousy is the main reason why romantic partners can become violent, and in some instances, could lead to homicide.

Facebook Usage and Romantic Jealousy

Facebook is a potential source for relationship concerns (Muise et al., 2009). Its open nature gives easy access to new information that would not be otherwise accessible (Elphinston and Noller, 2011; Muise et al., 2009). Thus, users can face four types of events that can potentially provoke romantic jealousy: (1) the lack of context of some situations that can lead to ambiguity; (2) interactions with previous partners; (3) proof of the partner’s interest in someone else; or (4) vice versa (Sheets and Wolfe, 2001). Furthermore, several authors ascribe romantic jealousy associated with Facebook, to the ambiguous nature of the partner’s content on this social network (Elphinston et al., 2011; Muise et al., 2009; Muscanell et al., 2013). In other words, the continuous access to private content could provoke jealousy within couples (Farrugia, 2013; Hurton, 2011; Muise et al., 2009).

The relation between the use of Facebook and the feeling of jealousy has been studied and confirmed by several authors (Cole, 2010; Farrugia, 2013; Marshall et Benjanyan, 2012; Muise et al., 2009; Utz et Beukeboom, 2011). The time spent on Facebook is affirmatively associated with the romantic jealousy experienced in connection with this network (Elphinston et al., 2011; Farrugia, 2013; Hurton, 2011; Muise et al., 2009). However, not everyone in scientific literature agrees upon the gender influence on the experience of jealousy. On the one hand, Hurton (2011) suggests that the link between the time spent on Facebook and the existence of romantic jealousy is stronger with men. However, other studies claim the opposite - that women are more likely to experience that kind of feeling when on Facebook (Muise et al., 2009; Muscanell et al., 2013). This may be explained by the fact that women spend more time on Facebook than men. Thus, they are more likely to encounter situations that could potentially lead to jealousy (Muise et al., 2009).

What characteristics influence romantic jealousy?

Some personal and relational characteristics can also influence jealousy related to Facebook. First, according to some authors, trust is the only relational factor that influences jealousy within a couple (Muise et al., 2009; Marshall et al., 2012). However, some studies oppose this idea and propose other factors that affect the experience of this feeling. Utz and Beukeboom (2011) suggest that there is a negative relationship between self-esteem and jealousy. This study shows that this relational factor has a moderating effect between the use of Facebook and the feeling of jealousy.

Furthermore, Kallis (2011) suggests that the commitment partners perceive within each other as a couple may be associated with romantic jealousy, since a more aware individual would see events that appear on Facebook as less threatening. However, Cole (2010), in her study, shows that there is no link between jealousy and this relational factor.

Relational Uncertainty and Partner’s Online Monitoring

According to Knobloch and Solomon (1999), the source of uncertainty can be found in acceptable behaviour boundaries within the couple, in shared feelings between partners, in the conception of a common future, or in the way of sharing their romantic status to others. In order to manage this uncertainty, some people use Facebook as a tool to manage this feeling (Cole, 2010; Stewart et al., 2014). The most common examples include writing on the partner’s profile, displaying photos of them and checking the history of their photos (Cole, 2010).

On the one hand, Muise and her colleagues (2009) assert that there is no relationship between Facebook jealousy and relational uncertainty. However, there might be a link between uncertainty and the partner’s online monitoring, which is the second most common behaviour documented on Facebook (Cole, 2010; Stewart et al., 2014). Thus, since several authors mention a significant relationship between monitoring the partner’s profile and activities and the jealousy related to the social network, relational uncertainty is supposedly a moderating factor (Hurton, 2011; Muise et al., 2009, 2013; Steward et al., 2014; Utz et al., 2011).

Several assumptions are made about the nature of the link between Facebook jealousy and online monitoring of the partner’s profile. One of the most commonly used explanations is the “feedback loop,” studied by Muise and her colleagues (2009). This notion is based on the potentially periodic nature of the interaction between jealousy and monitoring. Indeed, Facebook may be a network likely to expose users to content that could potentially provoke romantic jealousy. In order to decrease this feeling of uncertainty, one could start monitoring their partner’s Facebook activity, but risks being exposed to other situations that could generate jealousy (Marshall et al., 2012; Muise et al., 2009).

In other words, through facilitating access to the partner’s content, Facebook can be a potential source of relational concerns that can lead to romantic jealousy and the need for online monitoring. It is important to take the experience of couples dealing with this sexological and technological issue seriously, considering the various negative consequences jealousy can have on the couple and partners. Moreover, it could be interesting to base some of the therapeutic interventions on factors that influence jealousy and online monitoring, such as trust in their partner, self-esteem and commitment within the couple.

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References
jealousy, Facebook, social networks, relational uncertainty, surveillance, trust, Sophie D. Morin

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