Online Relationship Visibility, Self-Esteem, & Relationship Outcomes - Shelby Hughes, Amanda Champion, & Cory L. Pedersen


A plethora of research underscores the influence of social media in the development and maintenance of modern relationships (e.g., Elphinston & Noller, 2011; Fox & Anderegg, 2014; Rus & Tiemensma, 2017). Sharing content about a partner online may serve as a means of acquiring social status, self-esteem, and/or validation of the relationship (Emery, Muise, Dix, & Le, 2014; Robards & Lincoln, 2016). Some evidence suggests that highly visible online relationships are associated with higher relationship satisfaction (Emery et al., 2014; Rus & Tiemensma, 2017), while others propose that high visibility indicates a lack of security within the relationship (Emery et al., 2014; Fox & Anderegg, 2014; Fox & Warber, 2014). Given that social media is often used for impression management and validation of self (Lee & Jang, 2019; Vogel, Rose, Roberts, & Eckles, 2014), it seems likely that lower self-esteem will predict higher relationship visibility on online platforms. Further, given the social implications of high visibility, people with highly visible online relationships may engage in impression management by choosing to stay in a relationship despite experiencing dissatisfaction.


The purpose of the present study is to examine the relationship between online relationship visibility, self-esteem, and relationship outcomes. Participants were directed to complete a series of online questionnaires regarding self-esteem, relationship satisfaction, and social media usage and were then randomly assigned to one of three possible scenarios in which their partner committed a form of relationship transgression (yelling, cheating, or slapping). Participants were asked to indicate their reactions to the transgression and the likelihood of relationship termination. Findings suggest that higher visibility associated with higher satisfaction – small effect shown at the bivariate level. Further, high visibility was not the result of self-esteem issues or need for validation.  Online impression management does not seem to influence termination decisions.


Oral presentation delivered at the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Denver, CO, 2019.