<p>A study set out to investigate what couples’ activities on Instagram revealed about their relationships.</p>

A study set out to investigate what couples’ activities on Instagram revealed about their relationships.

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People who post about their partners on Instagram are more likely to be in satisfying relationships, though the app is a double-edged sword: It also allows for, and might encourage, unfulfilled partners to find and communicate with prospective romantic replacements.

Such were the findings of a recent study conducted by Arizona State University, which set out to investigate what couples’ activities on Instagram revealed about the quality of their partnerships.

“Instagram is one of the most popular social media sites in the world. Even though it’s not made for dating per se, Instagram has become central to people’s romantic lives and the way s they form and maintain relationships,” Liesel Sharabi, an assistant professor and director of the Relationships & Technology Lab at ASU, said of what piqued their interest in analysing the app. “This made us wonder if the maintenance activities you see on Instagram say anything about the quality of a couple’s relationship.”

For the study, the ASU team surveyed 178 heterosexual couples about how they perceived their relationship. They then analysed 3,270 of said couples’ recent posts and previous engagement between the pairs, such as comments and likes left on their other halves’ posts. The researchers found that increased Instagram engagement and/or references to users’ partners correlates with higher relationship satisfaction, investment, and commitment to the relationship.

“I think a lot of people are skeptical of what they see on Instagram and have this idea that if a couple seems too happy, it must be ‘fake.’ However, we found that couples who appeared happy on Instagram really did have higher quality relationships,” Sharabi said, per PsyPost. “The more we observed couples publicly engaging with the relationship on Instagram, the more satisfied, invested, and committed they told us they were in private.”

But of course, Sharabi reiterates the importance of recognising that even “happy” couples have their ups and downs. “What you’re seeing on Instagram are the highlights and not the complete picture and day-to-day reality of what being in a relationship looks like,” she added.

As for couples with lower joint engagement — well, partners in those relationships were found to frequently speak with “potential partners” — or what Sharabi calls, “alternatives” — via Instagram, almost as if setting a Plan B in place should things out with their current companion.

“People who paid more attention to their alternatives on Instagram felt like they had higher quality options outside of their relationship and were more likely to pursue them if given the chance,” Shabari said. “So while Instagram can be a great tool for relationship maintenance, it may also make it easier to exit a relationship if things aren’t going well by making people more aware of their options.”

That said, the study, like all research, did have some caveats: The  data was collected in the United States, while Instagram has a global reach. “How people present their relationships may look different depending on cultural norms surrounding social media use,” Sharabi said.

“In the end, Instagram isn’t good or bad for relationships. Its effect is ultimately going to depend on the way it is used.”

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