Let's agree: Nobody wants to be an overbearing boyfriend who demands his girlfriend break all contact with her ex, unfollow every guy she's ever hooked up with on social media, and block the ones you think would jump on the opportunity to get her pants off.
Then again, you don't want to be played like a chump either, right?
Point is: At some point, you have to set some boundaries—ideally with your better half. But when you do, but you'd be better off edging on the side of cautious, boundary-forming boyfriend, according to new research from Kansas State University.
In the study, researchers polled nearly 7,000 couples who avidly use social media. One area researchers focused on was that of "boundary crossing," as in having platonic but frequent contact with someone you or she finds attractive—say on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat.
"Social media can enhance romantic relationships when it's used to stay in touch throughout the day or honor your partner's achievements, but there are pitfalls to avoid that could damage the relationship," lead study author Joyce Baptist said in a press release. Meaning: There's a huge difference between wading into hot water—liking your ex's Instagram photos or having a brief back-and-forth on Snapchat—and emotionally or physically cheating, which violates that boundary.
The bad news? The researchers found the more accepting couples are of communicating with someone they perceive as physically attractive, the more damaging it can be for their relationship. If you don't set some ground rules or express what you're comfortable with, both of you might have drastically different perspectives of what is and what isn't acceptable.
Besides, even if your girlfriend says she's cool with you being in touch with an ex every now and again, she's probably full of it. "Although they may say, 'I trust you and it's OK,' they are not happy about it," Baptist said. "They eventually perceive that their significant other is spending too much time connecting with others on social media rather than paying attention to their own partner."
Flip the situation. Would you be cool with her keep tabs on an ex? No, it would probably fill you with a Hulk-smashing rage.
What ends of happening, in this weird grey area, is your relationship satisfaction falters and the level of care you receive from each other peters out. Here are some guides to making sure that doesn't happen, according to the researchers:
How to talk about boundaries in your relationship
- Draw a line. Express what you're willing to tolerate, but also what you'd prefer. You need to create a secure and satisfying relationship where you both know where the other stands, the researchers say.
- Be critical of your choices. "When you come across an old flame or another attractive person on social media, the question to ask is: Will communicating with this other person enhance my relationship or harm it?" Baptist said. "Just because you see that your girlfriend or boyfriend from high school is on Facebook doesn't mean that you need to 'friend' them." Judge yourself as you would your partner.
- Cut ties with past lovers, girlfriends, ex-wives, and the like. When you keeping lines of communication open, you'll make it twice as hard to get over them and create a solid relationship with someone new, Baptist says. Also recognize relationships are going to have good and bad points; the goal is not to confide in your previous partners when things get tricky. "Ebbs and flows do not mean the relationship is heading down the drain, but reigniting an old flame could destroy it," Baptist adds.