Being in a Relationship With Someone Who Is Addicted to Social Media

While smartphones and social media are powerful tools for connection, bringing together families, friends and partners around the world, an over consumption of social media can cause problems in relationships. It can be isolating and frustrating to feel ignored by someone who is constantly scrolling or swiping instead of being present and enjoying quality time with you. Despite the challenge this can bring to a relationship, it seems more common than ever. In fact, a recent report has found over 70% of people spend more time on their phones than with their love interests, with over half spending three or four more hours per day on their phone than with their partner [1].

What Is a Social Media Addiction?

Social media addiction is a phenomenon that didn’t exist ten years ago but is quickly sweeping across the world. Some governments have declared internet addiction a major public health issue, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that excessive internet use is a growing problem [2]. The way that social media platforms impact your brain is similar to other addictive substances such as drugs and alcohol. Social media rewards us for interaction through likes, follows, retweets, and shares. Algorithms are designed to keep your attention by developing a map of your personality as well as your likes, dislikes, and state of mind through personal information gleaned from what you share online. 

Social media addiction is a behavioral addiction that can cause an uncontrollable urge to open one’s phone or computer and log on and spend so much time, energy, and effort on social media that it impairs other fundamental parts of life such as relationships, careers, and school. Yet, many people are unaware of the control that Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok, or Instagram has over their lives.

How Social Media Affects the Brain

Social media companies design their platforms in a way that makes them addictive [2]. Social media is both physically and psychologically addictive as a result of the effect that it has on the brain. According to a new study, the act of sharing something personal about yourself on social media lights up the same part of the brain that is activated when we consume an addictive substance, have sex, or eat food [5]. This is directly connected to the chemical dopamine, which is produced by the human brain and plays an important role in motivating behavior. We have evolved to be social creatures and are rewarded by dopamine for successful social interactions. Historically, this has been an evolutionary advantage, but in the modern world, it is increasing rates of anxiety, depression, and loneliness and causing tension in relationships.  

Cognitive neuroscientists have revealed that laughing faces, positive recognition by peers such as “likes,” and messages from people we care about all activate the reward pathways that produce dopamine. With a smartphone sitting on the table, in your hand, or in your pocket, this means that we have a potentially unlimited supply of social stimuli. Each time our phones beep or buzz, whether it is an email or a follow notification, there is the potential for a dopamine influx. 

Social media programmers and designers are aware of this and, as the majority of social media platforms are free, rely on advertisement revenue to make a profit.  They design new applications and regular updates to keep you engaged and to ultimately make them money.

Recognizing a Social Media Addiction

If you suspect that your partner may have a social media addiction, there are some key signs to look out for.

1. The first thing they do each day is check their phone 

If your partner’s first instinct is to reach for their smartphone as soon as they wake up, it is a sign that they have become reliant on social media. Many people use their phone as an alarm clock, so this may seem normal. If this is the case, try buying an alarm clock and suggest you and your partner leave your phones in a separate room while you sleep. 

2. They check social media while at work or spending quality time with you

Feeling as if your partner’s attention is being consumed by social media can be hurtful. Decreased productivity at work or distraction from things that they care about is a clear sign that your loved one is addicted to social media. Most people will know the temptation to open Instagram during the morning commute or even while stuck on a boring task at work, but being unable to fight the urge is a sign that they are dependent. 

3. They get anxious if they cannot check social media 

If you are on a trip or vacation without internet or phone battery, and your partner begins to get agitated and anxious about checking their phone, it is likely they have a social media addiction. Unless there is a genuine work or family emergency that requires your attention, there should be no distress or desperation caused by lack of internet connection.

4. Your partner hears their phone buzz, even when it didn’t

Thinking that your phone has buzzed and flipping it over to check, only to find an empty screen, is a sign that you’re craving the dopamine hit normally received from phone notifications, so much that you have completely imagined it. Worse yet, if you feel a sense of disappointment or sadness that there is nothing there, it may be time to address your social media use.

5. They regularly swap activities that they once enjoyed for time on their phone

As with any addictive substance, losing interest in things that you once loved and spending more time consuming or sourcing the substance is a sign of addiction that loved ones should look out for.

If your partner has tried to delete social media applications or reduce screen time without success, it may be time to consider therapy. Research has found a connection between social media addiction and mental health, with self-esteem mediating this connection [3]. Although the isolation of being ignored by your loved one as they scroll through a feed can be hurtful and upsetting, try to remain compassionate and non-judgmental and consider that your partner may also be struggling. 

Talking to a relationship therapist or couples counselor might help you and your partner overcome any issues that have arisen as a result of your partner’s social media addiction. 

Intervention and Treatment

Research has shown that intervention can be highly effective in reducing the effects of people’s social media addiction and improving both their mental health and academic performance [4].

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatment methods available for addiction and mental health. During CBT sessions, the client and therapist work together to identify and adapt unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns to correct negative thought patterns. While there is no official diagnosis of social media addiction, treatments such as CBT can help address the underlying cause of the addiction. 

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of talk therapy that is based on CBT, specifically adapted for people who feel emotions very intensely. DBT includes the additional component of mindfulness and helps people become more mindful and present in their environment. One study looking into DBT for treating problematic social media use found that the participant showed improvement in his targeted self-regulation behaviors of reducing nighttime screen use and decreasing frequency of pornography use [4].

The first step to overcoming a social media addiction is recognizing the problem. If your partner’s social media use is negatively affecting your relationship, approach them with compassion; try to avoid blaming or shaming them and share how their addiction is affecting you.

If you or a loved one is struggling with social media, please contact Heather R. Hayes & Associates – call 800-335-0316 or email today.


[1] Bhargava, V. R., & Velasquez, M. (2020). Ethics of the attention economy: The Problem of Social Media Addiction. Business Ethics Quarterly, 31(3), 321–359. 

[2] Bhargava, V. R., & Velasquez, M. (2020). Ethics of the attention economy: The Problem of Social Media Addiction. Business Ethics Quarterly, 31(3), 321–359.

[3] Hou, Y., Xiong, D., Jiang, T., Song, L., & Wang, Q. (2019). Social Media Addiction: Its impact, mediation, and intervention. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 13(1). 

[4] Pluhar, E., Jhe, G., Tsappis, M., Bickham, D., & Rich, M. (2020). Adapting dialectical behavior therapy for treating problematic interactive media use. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 26(1), 63–70. 

[5] Krach, S. (2010). The rewarding nature of social interactions. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 

Sign up for our newsletter

At your side whenever you need us.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our team here at Heather R Hayes & Associates. We are just one phone call away. 

Heather Hayes & Associates is your trusted ally for navigating the complex world of treatment and recovery options for substance abuse, mental health issues, and process addictions.

Contact Us
Media Inquiries

Heather R. Hayes & Associates, Inc, offers experienced, trained professionals with clinical oversight, providing discreet and compassionate services in any situation.
Heather R. Hayes & Associates, Inc. is committed to providing the highest level of care without compromise, and we are not employed by, nor do we receive any form of payment or compensation from, the providers with whom we consult for placement or referrals.

Contact Us