These days, not a single week goes by in my therapy office without hearing at least one of my clients reflect on how they've been emotionally affected by something on Facebook. More often than not, these emotional effects are negative: jealousy, competition, guilt, exclusion.
As powerful a tool Facebook can be for connecting family and friends (and even making new friends), it also has a dark side.
If you have struggled with feelings of jealousy, insecurity, depression or anger because of interactions on Facebook, you're not alone, nor should you feel silly for feeling any of these things.
Because these common perils of Facebook can be especially intense in relationships (friendships and romantic relationships!), it's important to figure our what your triggers are. Realize what makes you tick, and set rules for yourself.
Here are my five relationship rules for Facebook (hint: they all start with don't) ...
1. Don't use Facebook to spy on your partner.
If you're in a relationship and are having issues with trust, it's all too easy to start spying on your partner using Facebook. Note: you may not even be experiencing trust issues with your partner in the first place — but Facebook can often engender feelings of jealousy that send you into a rabbit hole.
Some people go beyond the innocuous picture-spying and actually log into their partner's Facebook accounts to read their private messages. I've worked with many couples where this has happened, and the outcome is always bad.
If you're feeling insecure or having problems trusting your partner, don't spy on their Facebook page. It will not help anything, and will likely just exacerbate your issues — individually and collective.
Instead, deal with your trust issues. You can go to therapy alone, or with your partner. Or you can choose to deal directly with your partner and engage in a difficult conversation. Either option will always lead to a better outcome, even if it requires more than just a click of a mouse.
2. Don't use Facebook to compare your life to the lives of others.
Who hasn't looked at amazing holidays photos of friends (who seem to have unlimited budgets for pleasure) and felt a little jealous or envious?
Never before have we had the ability to observe and analyze the life-details of the people we know through looking at galleries of curated, often gorgeous, photos. In the world of Facebook, basically no one ever has a bad day.
It can be fun to look at photos on Facebook in limited amounts. But if done idly, there are great downsides. For one, it is very easy to feel like your own life is a little ordinary when you start to compare yourself to every other person in your social network.
If you find yourself comparing your life to the lives of others on Facebook and then feel worse off, it's time to take a break from Facebook. Try having new, exciting and fun experiences, without posting about them.
When you can be truly present, you'll be less interested in what others are displaying on Facebook.
3. Don't use Facebook to attack another person.
Facebook is not a forum to air your dirty laundry.
If you have the impulse to attack an individual, put down or bully someone you know on Facebook, it's time to take a deep breath and walk away. You don't want to etch your aggression into Facebook forever, to put your personal issues on display.
My gold rule is: If you wouldn't want it to be published on the front page of a newspaper, don't write it!
4. Don't have important relationship conversations on Facebook.
Facebook, like texting, is ripe for misunderstandings.
Many individuals (and relationships) have suffered when a Facebook comment (or even Facebook message) was misinterpreted and caused feelings of sadness, anger or resentment.
It's just not possible to always understand the intended emotional tone when you're reading something on Facebook because it is such a public and often informal platform for communication. This can lead to misreading or overemphasizing the importance of a passing comment from a friend or partner.
When the stakes are high or you're upset with someone, make sure you take these conversations offline and address them face-to-face.
5. Don't Facebook "stalk" people you're attracted to.
This rule is for all the single people out there.
Facebook "stalking" will reinforce any insecurities you have about possibly being desperate, but it will also detract from your confidence and happiness.
So be "old-fashioned" and focus on arranging meetings in the real world — social events, sporting events or going out with a group of friends. And it's more likely that you'll start a new relationship on a much stronger footing this way.