Attachment Styles and Facebook Relationships

Facebook has been proven to be a highly useful tool for displaying one’s relationship status.  People can make their relationship visible by listing their partner in their relationship status, including their partner in their profile picture, and posting pictures and statuses about them. People who share their relationship on Facebook are actually perceived to have a higher quality relationship and are seen as more likeable (unless the posting is excessive or far too personal – then the person is seen as unlikeable and psychologically unhealthy; Emery, Muise, Alpert & Le, 2014). However, the amount of information that is shared differs from person to person and may be influenced by different attachment styles and motivations for sharing.

Attachment style can be determined by measuring people’s anxiety and avoidance in their relationships. Those who have low anxiety and low avoidance in a relationship are said to be securely attached while someone who scores high on either anxiety or avoidance is considered insecurely attached. People with high relationship anxiety tend to have a strong fear of rejection, view themselves as unlovable, and are strongly influenced by their partner. People with high relationship avoidance tend to dislike getting close to others, are distrusting, and desire independence.

Anxiously attached people show a greater tendency to make their relationship partner more visible on their Facebook profile than avoidantly attached people, but the underlying reasons for doing so are the same for both attachment styles. Both anxious and avoidantly attached people are similarly motivated by the thought that others may think that have a poor quality relationship. However, those with an avoidant attachment react by sharing less about their relationship while anxiously attached people make their relationship more visible. The visibility of one’s relationship on Facebook appears to serve an impression management function for insecurely attached people. Including or not including one’s partner in profile pictures, relationship statuses, and posts makes it possible to create an image that portrays an ideal identity such as being in a good, stable relationship (for the anxiously attached) or being independent (for the avoidantly attached). Creating an image of their relationship that seems most socially desirable to them provides both anxious and avoidantly attached people a boost of self-esteem and increases their perception that others think they have a good relationship.

Anxious attachment predicts greater relationship visibility and avoidant attachment predicts less, but secure attachment does not predict relationship visibility. People with secure attachment may make their partner more or less visible on Facebook, but it comes from a different motivation. Those with a secure attachment style do not have to rely on managing their relationship impressions for self-esteem and approval from others as much as insecurely attached people do. So, the information shared about a relationship may be simply a description of the relationship rather than a way to prove to others how great the relationship is. People could also be comfortable not sharing information on Facebook because they know their relationship is good regardless of what other people think.

Emery, L.F., Muise, A., Dix, E.L., & Le, B. (2014). Can you tell that I’m in a relationship? Attachment and relationship visibility on Facebook. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(11), 1466-1479.

Emery, L.F., Muise, A., Alpert, E., & Le, B. (2014) Do we look happy? Perceptions of romantic relationship quality on Facebook. Personal Relationships, 22(1), 1-7.


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