What Does Your "Relfie" Say About Your Relationship?

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
By Dr. Benjamin Le
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You’re probably wondering what a “relfie” is, so let’s start there. A relfie (you heard it here first!) is a “relationship selfie,” or when you take a selfie that includes a relationship partner or someone else you are close to (like a parent and child). Relfies are those pictures that people take when they turn their cameras on themselves to show off their relationships that are then posted on social networking sites like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.
On Facebook, there are lots of ways to let your social network know that you are in a relationship, including posting relfies, changing your relationship status to say that you “are in a relationship with…”, and mentioning your partner in status updates. Facebook lets people control what others see about their relationships, thus allowing “friends” the ability to gather information and form impressions about others’ relationships.
My research collaborators and I wanted to know what your relfie, and other information you provide about your romantic relationship on Facebook, says about your romance. We also wanted to know how others react to that information. Specifically, in a forthcoming paper in the journal Personal Relationships, we tackled the following questions about posting about your relationship on Facebook:
If you are satisfied with your relationship, can others tell based on what you’ve posted on Facebook?
Do we like people who post about their relationships on Facebook?
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In our first study, more than 200 participants in romantic relationships completed questionnaires about their relationship quality (e.g., satisfaction and commitment) and provided our research team with access to their Facebook profiles. Our coders (members of our research team who did not know what the participants actually said about their relationships and didn’t know the hypotheses of our study), then collected information from those profiles including whether participants had a “dyadic profile picture” (i.e., a relfie or similar picture that included both the individual and his or her partner) and if their relationship status indicated that they were “in a relationship…” (i.e., a “dyadic relationship status”). More than 25% of our participants (who were all in romantic relationships) had a dyadic profile picture and nearly 70% had a dyadic relationship status on Facebook.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Our coding team then judged how satisfied and committed they thought each participant was based only the information provided in each Facebook profile. Participants with relfies and dyadic relationship statuses were judged to have higher quality relationships (satisfaction and commitment). We also found there was a significant association between coders’ perceptions of relationship quality and participants answers on the questionnaires they completed regarding their own relationship quality. In short, viewers can glean your relationship quality relatively accurately from what you post about your relationship on Facebook, and they perceive your relationship as better when you have a dyadic profile picture (like a relfie) and dyadic relationship status.
In our second study, we created fictional Facebook profiles by systematically varying the content of the profiles. In some of the profiles we included a dyad profile picture (or not); likewise, sometimes a dyadic relationship status was provided.
In addition, each profile included a status update that had varying levels of disclosure about the relationship. For example, “Pining away for Jordan…I just love you so much I can’t stand it!” (high relationship disclosure, which involves sharing personal details about one’s relationships); “I love my girlfriend
Again, we found that people depicted in profiles with dyadic pictures and statuses were judged to have better relationships and were better liked. When it comes to status updates, we found that higher levels of relationship disclosure were positively associated with perceptions of satisfaction and commitment. However, when it comes to relationship disclosure on Facebook, there can be too much of a good thing. Those disclosing a lot about their relationships were the least liked.
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The take home message is that others will assume you are in a good relationship if you post relfies, change your status to “in a relationship with…,” and talk about your relationship on Facebook. In addition, people viewing your profile are pretty accurate in their ratings of your relationship. If you are in a strong relationship, viewers can pick that up from your Facebook profile. However, there is some danger in getting too schmoopie about your relationship on Facebook; although your friends will think your relationship is going well, they will like you less.
Update: The research findings described here have been misreported all over the interwebs...See our response on setting the record straight here.
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