Social media has changed the way we navigate relationships—the one you’re in now and those in the past. That’s not necessarily a good thing. “Not only do you have the ability to interact with your exes, but you can also look up your partner’s ex and find pictures or videos of them when they were dating,” says Kevin Gilliland, PsyD, a Dallas-based psychologist and executive director of the counseling service Innovation360.
Yet there’s so much gray area surrounding acceptable online activity. Is reaching out to a past love on email considered emotional cheating? Is replying to a text that they sent crossing the line? What about reading DMs that pop up on your partner’s phone when they’re not looking—who can resist that?
“If we asked a dozen couples to define emotional cheating, we’d probably get a dozen different answers,” says Gilliland. “Couples have to define the term together, whatever that means to them.” That said, there are some social media moves that are definite no-nos thanks to their potential to mess up your current relationship. Below, Gilliland outlines three online moves that should be off limits.
Regularly checking an ex’s profile
It sounds harmless enough; you’re just curious about what they’re doing these days, right? Don’t do it. Visiting an ex’s Facebook or Instagram profile on the regular often has bigger implications. “You need to think about the real reason you’re still seeking them out,” says Gilliland. “It might be sadness or a wondering what if. Either way, reminiscing about past relationships is risky.”
It’s easy to romanticize what you once had if you’re facing challenges with your current partner, and by scrolling your ex’s social pages, you might forget that every relationship endures normal ups and downs. “Relationships are nonstop problem solving,” Gilliland tells Health. “We tend to forget that and idealize other relationships, whether it’s our past ones or comparing ourselves to other couples online, and it’s one of the worst things we can do.”
A better move: Unfriend, unfollow, or block accounts you find yourself wondering about. They might be keeping you from fully committing to your current love.
Messaging someone else about your current relationship
Experts agree that disclosing private info about your relationship to someone online, particularly an ex or a friend or coworker you have sexual chemistry with, is risky business. After all, if you haven’t shared the same info with your partner, why are you sharing it with this person?
To determine whether your personal messages violate your partner’s privacy, think about how they would react if they saw them. If you shudder at the thought, your conscience is trying to tell you something. “That’s where it starts to feel like you’re not being loyal to your person, and most partners really wouldn’t be okay with that,” notes Gilliland.
Though it’s fine to share with another person that you two are having issues or working through problems, make sure you vent to a friend you can trust, not an ex or someone who might have ulterior motives. Even if they don’t, your SO will think they do and potentially feel distrustful and angry.
Snooping through a partner's social accounts
We know, it’s hard to resist. But coming across a flirty text or cryptic email is bound to leave you feeling hurt, particularly if you’re already on edge about your partner’s activity online. “My principle is, if you’re going to snoop, you’ve got to be committed to talking about what you find, because we don’t keep that kind of information inside,” says Gilliland.
Also, consider why you’re logging into your SO’s accounts or reading messages that pop up on his screen. “Is it because you’re anxious or fearful about this relationship? Do you not feel worthy or like your partner isn’t committed? If that’s the case, there are so many better ways to address this; snooping behind their back is not going to help resolve anything.”
If you’re skeptical about a partner’s social media usage, have a discussion about it first. Explain what’s bothering you, whether it’s that you struggle with trust or feel like they’ve been acting strange whenever they use their phone around you.
Secretly scrolling through an SO’s texts might be an option only if you have solid reasons to believe that they are straying and lying to you about it. But beware; your snooping can backfire. “By and large, people don’t like secrets,” says Gilliland. “The linchpin of intimate relationships is trust, and when you do something that impacts trust, people don’t like it.”
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