Amsterdam Center for Social Media

This week in social media research: “… But can we still be Facebook friends?” (Facebook and Relationship Dissolution)

facebook-friends-breakup-ecard-someecards By Chei Billedo

You broke up with your partner. You, more or less, went through the “usual” process of relationship dissolution (Rollie & Duck, 2006): e.g., you reflected for sometime on the state of the relationship, discussed this with your future Ex, decided to break up, informed family and closest friends, etc. Now, it is time to move on…

Oh wait, you are still Facebook “friends” with your Ex! What are you going to do now? Change relationship status? Remove/block Ex from Facebook? Delete Ex’s photos? Or, stay away from Facebook altogether? Hmm, why not view Ex’s Facebook account to check if he/she is suffering?

LeFebvre, Blackburn, and Brody (2015*) investigated how offline breaking up affects Facebook activities. They wanted to find out how people who recently broke up (or in the process of breaking up) manage their Facebook. Their study included college students who use Facebook and experienced a break up within the last year (on the average). Based on their participants’ responses to the open-ended questions, the authors came up with five major categories of post relationship dissolution-related Facebook behaviors.

inarelpThe most common category is relational cleansing, which involves behaviors that signal a public change in romantic status and eliminate online existence of the relationship. This might include changing one’s relationship status (e.g., from “in a relationship” to “single”) and removing evidence of existence of the relationship (e.g., delete photos). The second most prominent category is minimal or no Facebook activity. This entails avoiding Facebook altogether or have very little Facebook activities after break up. Third, Facebook surveillance or stalk Ex via Facebook. Fourth, withdrawing access by unfriending Ex or blocking Ex’s account. It also means avoiding acquiring information related to Ex through common friends’ profiles. Lastly, impression management, which included presenting the self on Facebook positively (e.g. post photos to say “Hey look, Ex, I am so attractive and I am having LOTS of fun!”).

So, how do these behaviors help achieve one’s goal of moving on after a break up? The researchers compared the adjustment levels of the participants who engaged in break up-related Facebook activities from those who had minimal or no impact of break up on Facebook activities. They found that those who reported minimal or no Facebook impact have better adjustment than those who engaged in break up-related Facebook activities. This suggests that continued communication or access of information via Facebook decreases one’s ability to adjust to the break up.

What can we learn from this study? If you want to help yourself move on and facilitate your recovery from a break up, end your relationship with Facebook as well. Or, at least, take a cool off period.

*originally published in 2014

LeFebvre, L., Blackburn, K., & Brody, N. (2015). Navigating romantic relationships on Facebook: Extending the relationship dissolution model to social networking environments. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32(1), 78-98. doi:10.1177/0265407514524848

Rollie, S. & Duck, S. (2006). Divorce and dissolution of romantic relationships: Stage models and their limitations. In M. A. Fine & J.H. Harvey (Eds.), Handbook of divorce and relationship dissolution (pp. 223-240). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

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