ERP 255: How to Deal With Problems Related to Social Media in Relationship, an Interview With Dr. Marisa T. Cohen [Transcript]

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Hi, thank you for tuning in to the Empowered Relationship podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Jessica Higgins, licensed psychologist and relationship coach. Today’s episode, 255, “How to deal with problems related to social media in relationship”, an interview with Dr. Marisa T. Cohen.

Before we get started, I wanna take a moment and center with you in the intention of the Empowered Relationship podcast. The conversations that happen on this show are intended to support you in feeling better-equipped to navigate the landscape of long-term intimacy. And within long-term intimacy, many of us will be surprised at times, and perhaps taken aback by what gets evoked, whether or not that’s strong emotion, that’s positive, more than we’ve known before, and that can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable, because it’s outside of what, again, we’ve known in our comfort zone.

As well as where we might feel activated, triggered, feel threatened, and the misunderstandings that happen. Perhaps not feeling good enough, feeling afraid that your partner is not with you, or feeling potentially the risk of them leaving, or abandonment. Even the subtlest of cues. And when we love deeply, that’s when the stakes are higher, and we’re gonna feel it more strongly. So intimate relationship is probably the most significant way that we’re gonna be connected to our raw spots, our pain points… Meaning we might not notice them in our work environment or our friendships, because the attachment system isn’t getting activated in the same way… And as humans, we need to feel a primary bond, a safe haven, a deep, profound connection with someone that we can let our guard down, and feel safe in the world with. And we don’t choose to do that with many people.

So again, when we open up our hearts, we feel more vulnerable. And when we’ve known pain in the past, that can make that tricky, because we’re protecting ourselves from getting hurt or getting reinjured or retraumatized. So sometimes what gets evoked is this pain of fear of getting hurt, of fear of getting rejected, fear of being told we’re not lovable. And this might be, again, surprising, because we maybe don’t encounter this in many areas of our life, this insecurity or this sense of inadequacy.

Over and over again on this show you will hear invitations to turn towards that pain, and that there’s an opportunity for growth, for healing, for repair. And at the same time, it can feel terrifying. I’ve had so many clients – and even myself have felt that this is one of the most courageous things that I have done, to turn towards this pain or to be willing to engage in deep levels of vulnerability.

When we say yes to this invitation or to this call, we allow ourselves to be on the path of deeper knowing, deeper intimacy, deeper connection, and real development of secure connection, that’s fulfilling and authentic.

To get more support and additional resources, you can visit DrJessicaHiggins.com You can access coaching courses, other articles, and other interviews, as well as book recommendations, as well as free guides to support you, again, in deepening your understanding of these principles.

You can also access today’s show notes under the Podcast page. You can find that in the top navigation bar. And again, today’s episode is 255. Let’s get started in today’s interview. I find this topic really helpful, in that so many couples are feeling challenged by what gets triggered or evoked with the use of social media. Perhaps even noticing with Valentine’s Day the inclination to be curious about what other couples are doing, or what displays of affection and ways that they’re experiencing their romance together. And that while that’s fun to be inspired or to be celebrating other people’s wins, it also can prompt a sense of comparison, that then tends  to lead towards shame, or even inadequacy.

I was working with a couple a few weeks ago, and they’re newly-married, and she was describing having a friend that’s also newly-married, and seeing on social media the ways in which they are celebrating their connection and enjoying their romance and their bond through trips, and dinners, and their affection, and how they’re taking photos and capturing these moments… And it felt to her as if “Wow… In comparison, I wonder if my husband feels that strongly about me”, because these gestures or these displays that convey that sense of enthusiasm and being into your partner, being in love with them… And yet, people express themselves differently, and they experience love differently, and the development of love can look very different in different couples.

So this inclination to hop onto social media with the intent to feel more engaged in a conversation with others and feel some sort of connection can often result in feeling this comparison. And Dr. Marisa Cohen is gonna help us with that today.

 

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Dr. Marisa T. Cohen is a  relationship coach, relationship researcher, and teaches college-level psychology courses. She’s the author of “From first kiss to forever: A scientific approach to love”, a book that relates relationship science research to everyday experiences and real relationship issues confronted by couples. She is also the author of “Finding love, the scientific take”, a Psychology Today blog, and Love Lessons, a Long Island weekly newspaper column.

Marisa, thank you for joining us today.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Thank you for having me.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yeah, I’m excited to have your perspective on how social media affects us in relationship. For our listeners who are just now meeting you, and wanting to get a little bit more acquainted in how you got interested in this topic to begin with.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yeah, so I guess to explain my interest in this topic it would probably help to give a little bit of background about me and my work. I am a former academic, so I taught in the Psychology Department, and I ran a relationship science lab, so I was focused really on the research side, the academic side of relationship work, and I’m now currently transitioning to the therapeutic side of relationship work…

And really from both areas, social media has come up time and time again. With the former, I taught a seminar called Attachment and Attraction, the Science of Relationships. And my students would come into class, and they were constantly talking about the relationships they saw depicted in social media, #relationshipgoals was always coming up during my lectures… And we were really talking about how what we see in the media can influence our own perceptions of our relationships.

And even in my work right now, working with couples in a clinical sense, the influence of social media on their own satisfaction is something that people are constantly bringing up, so I think it’s a really important topic to address.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes… Thank you. And what are you seeing? So even just how you’re describing it, and how we might compare ourselves to what’s being depicted by friends and family… And what else are you seeing? And if you wanna say anything more about that as well.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Just to start with something anecdotal… In my own work with couples it seems to be a huge pain point, especially as it relates to interrupting or preventing quality time. So rather than really listening to one another, validating one another and engaging in meaningful conversation, people are just kind of passively listening to their partners – you know, no malice, but it’s just to pick up the phone and scroll through a social media feed, it’s just so easy to do… And there’s even a term for it; they say phubbing, which is basically ignoring your partner/companion, and instead focusing on the phone, because it’s a real pull. It’s meant to be addictive.

And research supports this. It’s shown that social media can affect the quality of our relationships. Just to kind of give you an example, there’s a survey done in 2013, I believe it was by Clayton & Colleagues, that showed that higher levels of Facebook usage were associated with negative relationship outcomes… And couples that were using social media more frequently experience greater social media-related conflict. Other researches even show that it’s been linked to increased feelings of jealousy within relationships.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes, I have definitely heard a lot about people expressing jealousy and/or the — I know another term for technoference; the technology interfering with the connecting and the bonding.

And it’s difficult with research when we see the correlation – are people that are not as satisfied turning towards their devices to fill that void, or are turning to our devices, and that temptation, and like you said, the addictive nature of it is interfering… And probably both are true. What do you think?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: I think you make such an important point there. This research is showing correlations. And correlation is not causation – something that I always trying to hammer home to my research method students… But it does not mean that if you use social media you will have an unsatisfying relationship, or it will lead to conflict in your relationships. There are always individual differences. But on the whole, we do see that there is some sort of relationship.

And in terms of whether or not this relationship is bi-directional, like is it the people who are not satisfied, or turning to social media, or is it more social media that’s leading people to not be so satisfied in their relationships – different studies show different things. So the jury is kind of still out on that one.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yeah. And I can even recognize in my own marriage with my husband, that I feel we both are pretty satisfied and feel pretty secure, and there’s moments where he’ll be busy doing something, and I might pick up my phone. It’s easy to go to the device in a moment of lull. Or if I’m going to get ready for bed, and wash up, and I take a little longer right now, I have braces, and so it’s like [unintelligible 00:12:45.25] this whole thing… So he might turn to his device, and when I come back, he’s already engaged in his phone, and he’ll come back to me… But it’s like, “Oh, where did you go? What’s going on in your world?”

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Right, you make such a good point. It’s like we’re filling the void. And I think we’re also just conditioned that in society today everything is so fast-paced, and we have everything at our fingertips, and we’re not accustomed to downtime. Sometimes we even have to train ourselves to have downtime… So we do tend to naturally fill these spaces with picking up a device. And because everything is so easily accessible, what might start out as “I’m gonna check a quick work email” or “There’s actually something that I need to do on my phone” can then kind of transition seamlessly into “Hold on, I’m scrolling through a feed. I don’t even remember how I got here.”

Dr. Jessica Higgins: No kidding. It’s such a, like you said, slippery slope. I can relate to that. I have a text I wanna respond to, and then all of a sudden I’m doing something else and I’m like “Wait a second…” And the consciousness around that.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Right.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Okay. And I guess I’m curious for you – as we’re talking, it makes sense to me that, like I’m saying, this kind of temptation, or we’re talking about how addictive it is… Do you think there’s something qualitatively different when we don’t sit in those moments of silence, or pondering in relationship, versus just filling the void?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: I think that — and again, it doesn’t mean that if you are on social media, your relationship will suffer. There have been studies that have shown a relationship. But when we more meaningfully engage with one another in terms of our conversation, and we are comfortable in one another’s presence, even when there is silence, it’s kind of [unintelligible 00:14:47.05] strength of the relationship. So being able to not constantly feel like you need to fill a void… But not only that, it’s just one of the detrimental or destructive things about social is what tends to be put out there. Going back to what I said before, #relationshipgoals – I mean, social media is not reality. We are presenting the best version of ourselves, so it can be a situation in which we’re in a middle of an argument, but we have just taken a cute picture, upload that, and that’s what everyone sees. And if we constantly have this pressure to live up to what we perceive other people’s relationships are, we’re not necessarily seeing the good in our own relationships, and are trying to always be better or do better, instead of work with what we have and enjoy those positive components of our preexisting relationships.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: No kidding. So you’re talking about this pressure that we put on ourselves, and how we might be comparing ourselves. Do those things impact relationship, do you think?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Oh, definitely. Definitely. There’s kind of like this bias, in a way, or rather social comparison, in that I’m not as good as what is being depicted out there… And there’s also just even like pressures when you see other couples or other relationships on social media – what are they doing for Valentine’s Day? What gifts are they giving one another? And even proposals are now such a thing – you’re uploading some viral video where there’s a flash mob… People are comparing “Well, you know, we just went out to our favorite restaurant and he turned to me and asked me to marry him” or “She turned to me and asked me to marry her.” That’s amazing. And that might have been perfect for you, and that probably exactly what you wanted. But then when you compare it to “Well, this viral video is getting millions of hits. Was my proposal good enough?”

There’s even terminology. Now everyone is very focused on a meet-cute story, which is basically what’s the way in which we met. Like, we locked eyes from across the room, and we have this incredible story… And not every relationship begins that way, and that’s okay.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes. I can even hear it how you’re talking now, but I’m curious, what do you do in your clinical work, or with your students, or in your writing, that’s helping people with this social comparison? Is it recognizing that everyone has a different path and a different experience and validating that?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Definitely. The first thing is just that recognition that what is out there is not necessarily reality, and even if it is someone’s reality, it doesn’t mean that it has to be your reality. And sometimes, even though we think we know this, after a while we just kind of forget it, and that’s when we start to really feel upset about our relationships, or we experience that social comparison.

So just by even verbalizing it and bringing that out into the open is a good first step. And then it’s just kind of going back into an examination of your own relationship, or a self-awareness as to what you value in a relationship, realizing that this is something that could be different for different people. And judge your relationship by your relationship, and how both of you feel within that relationship, and not by what we think should be a perfect relationship. That “should” is always so problematic.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: No kidding. And I love the invitation to direct the attention to the values – what we stand for, what’s meaningful, what’s significant for us, and that’s where we’re gonna feel more resonant, most secure, most fulfilled, rather than some shoulding as far as what’s expected.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yes, exactly.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Because if we look at it in the longer term, being able to stand for those values and really invest in those things that are most meaningful, that’s gonna be the lifeline, right?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Exactly. It’s the couples that really — just to go back to the adage of “It’s not opposites attract, it’s birds of a feather that flock together.” So it’s really people who share similar values, morals, beliefs, worldviews – those are the couples that are gonna have greater satisfaction. And it doesn’t mean that both people have to line up exactly with one another. You don’t have to have the same interest in terms of music, and activities. In fact, having differences there can further enhance your relationship. But really focusing on those core values, the deeper components of how you view the world. And if you match up with your partner, that’s a really powerful thing.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: No kidding. And I guess I would even wonder with you – as we’re talking, I’m thinking about those still moments or those moments that we’re not filling up with social media, that perhaps could even help us work through some conflict, or work through difficulty, and that actually working through it together helps that sense of closeness, and we overcame something together, therefore more intimacy and more solidarity.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yes, I like how you stated that. And just even talking about how working through something can lead to more intimacy and a stronger relationship; that’s such an important point, and something that media would have us believe is if you fight, it’s a problem. And that’s not the case. Sometimes it’s really important to have conflict – constructive conflict, of course. The way in which we fight is actually much more important than what we’re fighting about… But having that constructive conflict helps us build new understandings about one another, and that can lead to a stronger relationship, and as you say, more intimacy.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: No kidding. And I’m just thinking — part of me thinks that there should be almost a reality check feed that’s like “This is the real deal. This is really what’s going on.” Because if we’re comparing ourselves to these fantasized or really polished versions of the highlight reel, it’s so easy to judge and feel inadequate against, and then also, what are we really trying to accomplish? What’s the goal?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: It’s like, you know, #instagram versus #reality kind of situation. It might be helpful to actually have pictures of couples in couples therapy, pictures of couples just washing the dishes, and drying the dishes, and the mundane aspects. Not every single moment is going to be this picture perfect, walking on the beach barefooted sunset kind of photo… And just show, “This is what real relationships are like.” There’s something beautiful in that.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: And as  you mentioned even attachment, I can imagine this tendency to turn towards the distracting tool of social media perhaps, that if we’re feeling anxious, we could soothe our anxiety by using social media, but that probably doesn’t work… And then if we’re feeling a little more avoidant, that’s another means. So I wonder if social media also contributes to how people might have certain attachment tendencies.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Oh, definitely. And for people that are anxiously attached and wanting reassurance about the strength of their relationship, or that the person is available – I mean, this can lead very easily into social media monitoring tendencies. So what your partner is doing on social media, who your partner is talking to… And sometimes it’s leading you to feel like there are problems in the relationship when there might not even be problems, and completely normal social media tendencies might be taken out of context, such as liking another person’s photo, or engaging with another person online in what would be a completely appropriate manner; the person can run with it and see that as maybe indicative of a problem in their relationship.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: No kidding. I’ve even heard clients talk about if someone else is loving or liking their photos, and they’re like “Who is this person?” And then, like you’re saying, there’s a real eye for tracking.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yeah, and that can even lead to just kind of like going down the rabbit hole of “Who is this person?”, going into their photos… And it’s just so easy to kind of get lost in that process.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: And it’s so easy to get information about people these days, and so then to have all the (like you’re saying) rabbit  hole, and the story that gets made up, and how that might trigger somebody’s insecurities and reactions…

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: And I think it may just be helpful to have a proactive conversation with your partner about social media usage. People sometimes will transfer previous experiences from a past relationship into their current relationship… And look, there can be very real situations in which maybe a person with an ex partner, they had been cheated on, and their partner was doing it behind their back online,  or something… And they bring this into their new relationship, constantly fearing “What is my partner doing when he or she is at the computer?” And even just like having an honest conversation, like “This is something that is a trigger for me, and this makes me experience anxiety.” Just letting your partner know that – it can bring you closer, and now they have this awareness of why you might be so invested in what they’re doing when they’re at the computer.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I love that, the open dialogue. That really supports the deeper understanding of how they can help each other. What do you recommend to have a conversation about social media? Can you help people with some of the things that might be helpful to address?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yeah. So I think addressing first what social media means to you, especially for people that are first starting out in a relationship… What does it mean to go “social media official.” When you meet a person — it’s interesting, because research has shown that going official on social media, and I think specifically a study was done with Facebook, means different things to different people. In that particular study, females were inferring from it, “Alright, we’ve declared that we’re in a relationship, therefore we’re exclusive”, whereas to males in that particular study it didn’t necessarily mean that.

So having these conversations about “Well, we’re in a relationship. Is it important for one of us to indicate this on social media?” Because some people don’t care, some people do care. But it’s when there’s that mismatch that it kind of leaves people to their own devices, trying to figure out “Well, why hasn’t my boyfriend/girlfriend requested to be in a relationship with me on social media? What does that mean? Is he/she not serious?” Call it out. Don’t let your mind wander. Call it out, have that discussion. And these discussions can be challenging to have. So what it means to indicate we’re in a relationship is important when you’re starting out in a relationship. And then when you’re in a relationship, what are your expectations regarding social media usage, just in terms of spending quality time with one another? Do you wanna have time where if you’re talking to one another you put the phone away, so you’re not tempted, and you’re having a more focused discussion with one another? Or is it okay for you to kind of have these breaks and check out something on your phone? And just being honest about not only what you need or what you desire, but why that’s important to you.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: So just really being able to be clear about our expectations, our desires, and what it means, and having that conversation. When you see people getting stuck in miscommunication as it relates to social media, what are you seeing in that regard?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: I’m seeing a lot of “Because my partner is on his/her phone, he/she doesn’t wanna be present with me in the moment.” And that may be true, but not necessarily. A lot of people – and I’m gonna say, full disclosure, myself included – I don’t even realize when I’m on the phone anymore. I can be talking with my husband, and my thumb will just start scrolling through, because it’s in my hand, and it’s almost like a reflex at this point… And we’re starting to see, a lot of people are coming in because they’re worried about their relationship, and is my partner paying attention to me when I’m trying to communicate really important things about my  life, and what I wanna share… And it’s calling that awareness to this behavior and what the person’s perception is of that behavior. Because a lot of times we don’t necessarily communicate this with one another. So what can be seen as something disrespectful to one person in the relationship, the other person – it’s just an honest mistake, and they don’t even realize. So having that discussion out in the open is really helpful for people.

And I don’t want to give the impression that social media is bad. It can sometimes create problems, but especially now, during the pandemic, it’s really powerful. It’s helping people connect in ways and strengthen communities in ways that we really needed, so we can bond together.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Such a useful tool, in so many ways… But I feel like thematically what I’m hearing you describe, Marisa, is that if we’re not communicating, there’s so much room for assumptions, and hurt feelings, and jealousy, and miscommunication… Is that right?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yes. We will talk about what we were discussing before – filling in those voids with time… We will also  fill in voids with our own information. So if we’re not communicating it, we don’t have the answer cognitively, we’re gonna wanna make sense of it on our own. And sometimes when we try to make sense of something, we hit the nail on the head and we’re accurate, and sometimes we’re not… And you might be going on a false assumption about your partner, and their social media usage, and what that means for your relationship. So calling that out is a really important first step.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: And do you have any language for people who perhaps are unfamiliar with what this conversation could look like? Perhaps they saw something on social media… I mean, I know for me if I look back on my history with my husband – and I’m not on social media a ton, but I remember when I was a little more than I am now, and if I saw something… Because the way that the algorithms work – if I’m in a relationship, Facebook is gonna let me that my husband said, or did, or whatever. So I might see something that he did, and if I didn’t know about it first, it’s almost like “Well, why didn’t you tell me first?” or something like that.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Right, right.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Or a lot of times, like I mentioned earlier, there’s this, like you said, awareness around who commented, and I don’t know that person, and there could be some level of, depending on how insecure somebody is feeling, but threat… And that could sound really accusational, or the person that’s on the receiving end could feel like “I didn’t do anything wrong. Why are you coming at me?”

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Right. It can come off as criticism, or like you’re not trusting your partner… Like, “Who is that person? Why are you talking to them?” And it might be on one hand a person might feel, as you said, threatened… But also, it could just be, even if it’s just a friend and you know it’s a friend, “I thought we  were integrating our lives. I wanna know the people who are important to you.” And again, not everyone that is our Facebook friend is necessarily our friend. Sometimes it’s just everyone we’ve crossed paths with… It depends upon how you’re using it. But again, unless you have that discussion about how you’re using it, you’re left to come up with your own assumptions.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes. Well, even now, there’s times where I will ask my husband, “Did you learn anything today?” when we’re talking about just life in general, but sometimes if we have certain news feeds, or things… I’m not on very much, so it’s sometimes a nice conversation around “Did you learn anything about anything friend-related?” It can be a nice conversation piece sometimes, just to be in the loop… Because it is a very individual through your profile and the algorithms created for you; you’re gonna see things that are different, perhaps, so that could be a way to share and be more in the loop.

Do you have any other language for people that maybe wanna address some of their insecurity, or some of their questions, that could spark more communication, rather than disconnect?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: So I am a huge fan – and this is not specific to social media conversation; this is for any conversation you have with anyone – of using “I statements” or “I language.” I think that’s just so important. And for people who are unfamiliar with it, a lot of times when we talk to another person, we have a tendency to call out the person, rather than focusing on their behavior. For example, it’s just like “Well, you’re always on social media, because you care more about other people than me.” It’s essentially attacking the person.

Instead, if you focus on what the behavior is that you’re interested in honing on – in this case social media usage – and bringing it back to yourself, so why you might find that behavior problematic, it’s gonna be a lot better. So when you are scrolling through the phone while we’re trying to have a conversation, I get upset because I’m trying to communicate something important to you, and I wanna make eye contact, and I wanna feel like we’re really in the middle of an engaging conversation. So you’re focusing on what that behavior is.

Now, it doesn’t mean that you and your partner are gonna see eye to eye, because you each have your own individual beliefs, and your own habits… But at least by doing this you’re communicating what the issues is, and how it’s affecting you.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: And this is also related to a conversation where one person might feel jealous, because you also talk about the jealousy that can get provoked by social media.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Oh, definitely. I think that using I statements, that’s something that could transfer into all different aspects of relationships. And by doing that, it’s just kind of giving another person a window into your thinking process.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Okay. And then for someone who’s approaching their partner with a little bit more of that reveal, rather than the attack, and using I statements to really share with their significant other about where they go –  emotionally, where they go in their mind around the stories they make up… And then what are you recommending to support relationship? Because I do see how this could also, particularly in the beginning stages, where one person might feel a little more free — and this doesn’t even relate to social media; we could look at even a get-together, a party; one person might be a little bit more expressive and affectionate, and the other person is a little more contained and reserved… And so how that behavior is interpreted, particularly the expressive one, could feel threatening. But even as it relates to social media, I can also see where this can run the risk of one partner feeling controlled, or managed… What do you say for people around that?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Well, I was actually just having this conversation the other day with someone about communication, in terms of verbal communication, or non-verbal communication… And I think this kind of relates nicely to the question. Essentially, there’s three messages; so there is the message, there is what the person is sending, and then also what the other person is receiving. And when there’s kind of a mismatch, this is something that can lead to conflict, destructive conflict, essentially.

So what one person is doing and their intention is “I’m just trying to be friendly, and make sure that I speak to every single person at the party”, another person can interpret that as “You’re stepping out of bounds. You are flirting with other people, and that’s disrespectful.” So I think that it’s really important for people to have an awareness of how the way in which they view things may not completely match up with how their partner views things… And being willing to engage in a conversation using that “I language”, the “I statements” of like “This is how I’m seeing the behavior”, allowing your partner to respond in kind how he/she intended for that behavior to come across… And then kind of validating one another and realizing that you’re not always going to see eye to eye, you don’t always have the same viewpoint… It depends upon our upbringing, how we were raised, the environments that we were surrounded in, and being open to really have that communication and come to some sort of understanding.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Nice. I like that. So it really does depend on the couple, and the two individuals in the relationship, for them to kind of really work together to create what are the guidelines that support their relationship.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yes, and I think that that’s so important, because I think too often people will seek information and they will make the assumption that if this works for one couple or some relationship advice that’s out there, it must work for us. And it would be great if it was that easy, but that isn’t always the case. So just being mindful that each individual is different, and each relationship is different.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I mean, even as we were talking about what we see other people doing, #relationshipgoals… There are couples who will acknowledge their anniversary on social media, or they’ll share their sentiments about one another publicly. So it doesn’t sound like you have any real etiquette recommendations around that, that it does really depend on the couple.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yeah, it does depend upon the couple, and it does depend upon their intention for sharing it. But if you had a wonderful night out or a great experience and you wanna share it with the world because you’re excited, go ahead and do it. There’s no problem in doing that. But if you’re doing that in order to project a version that you think people need to see or want to see, and you’re trying to mask things that are actually occurring within the relationship, that’s then where it becomes problematic. That, or when you’re trying to hold yourself up to these idealized versions of what a relationship should be.

Instead, just kind of focusing on “Well, what is the purpose of sharing this, and why do I want to? And what is happening in my relationship?” Kind of focusing inward, that’s important.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I like that recommendation, to be really conscious of what’s the intention, what’s the purpose…

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yeah, I think that was a really — you know, adding that consciousness, the intentions behind what you’re doing, kind of coming back to that is really imperative.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Well, the way that we’re talking, it sounds like social media is a tool, and so much of what we’re saying, it does come back to our relationship communication, how we’re owning our own sensitivities, how we’re bringing that back to our person, how we’re deepening in the dialogue so we can deepen our intimacy and evolve how we wanna take care of each other… So it’s not that different than life as it is in the real, human-to-human exchange… But that social media is a different realm, but it’s a tool, so we’re still gonna have the same challenges, but it’s just a different form. Would you say that’s fair?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yeah. I think that using social media as a tool – and I like how you said that it’s a tool – can be helpful, because it allows for connection. And especially, like I said before, with Covid, it allows partners who are separated by space to communicate with one another and to be with one another; it allows friends to keep contact with one another, family members… And in that case, social media can be great. When you allow it to warp your reality by focusing more on what is projected than what is really occurring, that’s when it can become problematic. So just really trying to keep yourself grounded, and be mindful of the role that social media has not only in your relationships, but in your life.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes, I like that. Thank you for underscoring that, because I was starting to go down the track that “Wherever you go, there you are.” If you use social media or if you’re at a party and you’re feeling insecure in both areas, you’re having an insecure experience, and that is worth looking into. But you’re also saying that there’s some real legitimate differences in the way that we interact on social media that we wanna be really aware of and mindful of.

[unintelligible 00:42:03.22] even when you’re in the beginning stages of how you wanna show up, or what social media means to you, and how being official – what that means to you… But also, it could even be a conversation of how public do we wanna be. Some people are a little more private, whereas other people do really wanna share and they wanna capture those moments.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yes. Different stages of relationships are gonna present different social media challenges. I mean, different challenges in everything. In the early stages of a relationship we’re still really getting to experience that process of learning more about one another… So social media, as anything else, is understanding the other person’s habits, and their needs, and their wants, and as we become more comfortable with our partner, we have a better understanding of who they are.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: And if we do get warning signs, again, whether or not it’s at a party or on social media, that that’s also worth putting attention on and focusing on.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Definitely, yeah. I think anything that can shine a spotlight on a relationship is helpful. And self-exploration is really, really helpful. And relationships – we’re constantly growing, we’re constantly learning, and that is an important thing.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes. And do you have anything you wanna say about warning signs around relationship, and anything you wanna just highlight for people to know, just based on your vantage point?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: A lot of people ask me “What are warning signs on social media that a partner is cheating?” or “What are warning signs on social media or in a relationship in general that I might be more invested than my partner?”, and it’s not like a one-size-fits-all approach… Because if you are feeling like there’s an issue, whether or not there actually is, you are perceiving that, and both you and your partner are entitled to your thoughts, your feelings, your beliefs… And that’s something that’s worth looking into. “Well, why do I feel this way? Why am I concerned about the social media usage? Is it something that resides within you, or is it something that resides within the interpersonal relationship?” That is something that really can’t be determined on a general level. That’s something worth exploring, whether a couple is doing that with a therapist, a counselor, a relationship coach, or even just trusted friends – it’s something to do, but definitely have that conversation with your partner first.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I love that. So on the Empowered Relationship podcast most of the discussions are really supporting people in relationship, but you do make a really good point about when people are breaking up, and how to take care of themselves in that regard. Is there anything you wanna say around that?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yes, especially when it comes to social media – having your ex partner on social media, on your feed… I mean, again, there are so many individual differences, but for many people it can be extremely problematic. And depending upon, of course, how the relationship ended, why the relationship ended, and the strength of the relationship prior to it ending – that’s of course going to affect the time in which you’re gonna grieve the relationship and in which you’re able to really move on and form a new relationship… But kind of keeping tabs — we were talking about keeping tabs on other people before on social media… When you’re doing that with an ex partner, this is something that can really slow down the process and prevent you from moving on. So it’s important to make sure that you don’t have that constant presence or that trigger for you in your sphere.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I know, because before social media it might be somebody’s birthday, or the holidays, or an anniversary… And that would bring up another layer or degree [unintelligible 00:46:03.28] social media you could be just inundated with constant reminders, and it could be too much.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Right. I mean, it could be like a day-to-day thing, looking at what the other person is doing, and then again, “Why is this person doing that?” And back to the whole idea of “When we don’t have all of the information, sometimes we fill in information.” And again, this can really be problematic for the healing process.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes. Well, we could go on and on and on, but I just so value your time, and I just wanna say thank you for joining us. Do you have anything you wanna say before we talk about how people can get in touch with you [unintelligible 00:46:40.17] our conversation today?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: The last thing that I probably wanna say is just really being conscious about why you’re on social media, how you’re using it, both to enhance your own life, and to enhance your relationship. And if you find that the drawbacks are far outweighing the benefits, then it’s time to really think about “Well, how can I change this, and why is it important to change this?” So having that self-awareness about your involvement is a really important piece.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Thank you for saying that, because it does feel like you’re empowering people, and that there is  a way that you can express yourself, and if you’re using it no longer serves you, and perhaps you’re entering into a different season, whether or not you wanna limit, or not use it as much, or perhaps even change entirely what you wanna say or express, that there’s a lot of freedom and permission in that, and also just to have the awareness around it.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yes, yes.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I love it. Well, Marisa, how can people get in touch with you and what you’re offering? You have books, and…

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yes, you can find me on my website. That is www.marisatcohen.com. And you can also find me on all social media platforms, which sounds kind of funny now saying that, but… Yeah, you can find me — I go by @marisatcohen.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Nice. And you wrote a couple of different books, right? Are those also on your website?

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Yes, the information is on my website. I’ve written a couple of chapters for books, but my personal book is “From first kiss to forever: A scientific approach to love.” And it basically talks about relationship science, from earliest connections to a primary caregiver, through what we’re looking for in a partner, to having a happy, wonderful, lifelong, fulfilling relationship, to even what happens when relationships aren’t successful, and how to move on from that. So yeah, check it out.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Nice. Wonderful. I’ll make sure to have all of those links on today’s show notes. And Marisa, thank you for joining us today. It’s been such an honor to have your teaching, research, wisdom on today’s show.

Dr. Marisa T. Cohen: Thank you for having me.

 

I hope you have enjoyed today’s interview, again, with Dr. Marisa T. Cohen. If you would like access to today’s show notes, again, you can visit DrJessicaHiggins.com, click on Podcast, and there you’ll find today’s episode, 255, “How to deal with problems related to social media and relationship”, an interview with Dr. Marisa T. Cohen.

Thank you for listening, I appreciate your listenership, and until next time, I hope you take great care.

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