Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is a well known phenomenon exaggerated by social media. Seeing other people’s apparently fabulous lives can create a sense of loss and envy. It is not restricted to material things like houses or cars, or to friendship networks and popularity – it also extends to relationships and our partners.
FOMO can create discontent with our loved one, either at a physical level because they are not as good looking or beautiful as the partners of others online, but also to the lifestyle they provide for us. This envy is as toxic as jealousy, eating away at those who allow themselves to be vulnerable to superficial comparison. When applied to relationships, FOMO can result in couples splitting up without even trying to make things work.
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Its not just the envy that social media fosters which is bad news. Research shows that most people are online between 2 and 20 times a day amounting to an average of 90 minutes a day. Those are moments when they are focussing on their devices and not on the person they are with. To make a relationship work we need to feel connected to the other person, and if there is a device constantly in their hands and their hands are not on you, that connection will shrivel and die.
Hardly surprising, then, that social media is copping flack for being the reason why couples are increasingly finding their relationships harder to maintain in a happy state, and their partners harder to understand and communicate with. It is time away from a partner, as well as introducing impossible ideas of perfection that no-one is going to be able to match.
FOMO creates a pervasive apprehension and a compulsion to frequently check the status of your accounts to see what others are up to. This comes from a sound psychological basis – we are social creatures and its important that we belong to our family, group or tribe. That’s fine when our family is around us but when our ‘family’ comprises people we may never have met in real life and who live in completely different situations and circumstances, we become subconsciously stressed and anxious.
On one hand we have a desire to be connected with them and to have their approval, but on the other we are engaging in a false and (literally) unreal world. We are never going to be able to achieve what our subconscious is aiming for from our online world – approval and acceptance, and a feeling of safety. Social media can give us a sense of being engaged with a community, which we are constantly seeking, and with a low ‘cost of entry’ but it is a false community, not a real one that gives us authentic rewards and feedback. For that, you need real people in the real world.
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As well as a lack of sense of safety, social media can create a deep sense of disconnection. This can lead to a sense of anxiety and depression which will in turn affect the relationship badly – especially if our partner is unaware of the source of these negative thoughts and feelings. They probably think its them, and their conclusion is that the relationship is not working.
People who grapple with FoMO might not know exactly what they are missing but still hold a fear that others are having a much better time or having a much more rewarding experience on the spur of the moment. We look at our real life relationships and our day-to-day world, and its easy to conclude that we are missing out. A cynical scepticism sets in, and its easy to see how dissatisfaction can grow. From mild dissatisfaction we develop envy and resentment, and then to criticism which is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of a relationship. Once we have criticism, the relationship will start to implode. FOMO may drive someone to constantly look for a better or more interesting connection with others, abandoning current connections to do so, without realising that what they move to is not necessarily better, just different. Your relationship is precious, but it is easily to rupture the connection and lose what you have, for an illusion.
How to prevent FOMO, and the impact on your relationship?
Limit the amount of time you spend online, and use the time instead to talk to your partner, and spend time with them.
Remember that what you are seeing online really is unrealistic, and in some ways your life is just as good. When you feel a sense of envy or dissatisfaction, notice what is happening, check yourself and correct your thinking.
Slow down. Our social media worlds go so fast, and the pressure to repeatedly check what is happening is so strong that its easy to lose touch with the real world. The only way to overcome it is to put your devices to one side, and spend more time on the ordinary things of your life – eating, relaxing, working, cooking, driving. If this is too hard, at least self-impose a gap between online checks, or a daily limit.
Take up meditation which helps you to focus on the present and become aware of the ‘now’. As you slow your brain down you will be able to tae a more realistic view of the world presented online, and be more aware and grateful for your real world.
Accept that no life is perfect. Even those which appear online to be immaculate will have deficiencies and weaknesses, problems and fears. Your relationship may be flawed and your partner not ideal in every way, but that’s realism, and thats real life. Be grateful for what you have.
Accept that you will not be able to have it all. The constant striving for an illusion is never going to be satisfying, so being content with what you have will lead to a greater sense of contentment.
For more information and to get in touch with Annie, head to www.anniegurton.com
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