Interpretations of social media communication behaviors that undermine commitment in romantic relationships

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Drum, Jessica L.
Medvene, Louis J. 

Interdependence theory is often used to understand how positive and negative experiences within romantic relationships impact a partner’s behavior. The theory postulates that as one romantic partner witnesses the other partner behaving in prosocial ways there is an increase in trust, dependence, and commitment, a cycle known as mutual cyclic growth. The current study was interested in the opposite direction of this cycle, mutual cyclic decline, where behaviors that are interpreted as anti-relationship in nature would undermine trust, commitment, and dependence. Specifically, the current study was interested in behaviors enacted through social media. One hundred seventeen students who were in a romantic relationship participated in an online survey and 11 female participants completed a follow-up interview. Forty-eight percent (n=56) of survey participants who used social media indicated their partner had enacted at least one social media behavior that negatively impacted their relationship. Forty participants experienced a negative behavior by their partner via Facebook, 21 participants via SnapChat, 15 participants via Instagram, and 29 participants via Twitter. Directed content analysis was used to analyze the interpretations of behaviors for both the interviews and the survey’s open ended questions. Codes for interpreting behaviors included the categories of lack of loyalty/fidelity, lack of supportiveness, lack of openness, lack of similarity display, and lack of personal connection. The first four categories were previously discovered by Baxter (1986) and Sheets (1997) when studying face-to-face communication behaviors, and the final category was newly discovered. In addition, a common theme mentioned by participants was that part of the reason behaviors were perceived as negative was due to the virtual presence of others witnessing the behavior. This study provided further evidence that behaviors enacted through social media can be interpreted as undermining relationships across multiple forms of social media.

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Thesis (Ph.D.)-- Wichita State University, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of Psychology