What does it mean if my partner is looking at racy pictures on social media?

Social media has added a new level ofcomplexity to relationships. Individuals are now exposed to a variety of people and content all the time, trying to gracefully navigate the online space while keeping in mind how it impacts their real-life relationships. 

Have you ever seen your significant other scroll and double-tap on a picture of someone very attractive? Or, how about seeing a sexy or provocative picture of an acquaintance and then noticing that your partner liked it? These are just two of the many common situations that tend to spark conflict for couples. 

I often get asked: Is it OK for my partner to follow attractive models, celebrities or influencers and “like” sexy pictures on Instagram?

My reply often comes in a form of a question: Is it? 

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Each person has to decide what they are comfortable with. Some consider these behaviors as disrespectful or bordering on infidelity, while others don’t feel like it’s their place to set a boundary around what sort of content their partner follows and engages with on social media.

The most important thing is that you and your partner have a mutual understanding of how the other feels about this topic and what boundaries both of your are comfortable with. 

What to do if your partner is looking at sexy social media pictures

Figure out what’s going on for you. The first step when seeing a partner like content you are uncomfortable with is to reflect. What about this situation bothers you and why? If you had a previous agreement or conversation about how this type of behavior made you feel, you may feel frustrated, ignored or betrayed. But, maybe, this conversation never came up and you are wondering if you should say something. Regardless, ask yourself: What am I feeling? Am I feeling insecure, jealous or disrespected? Am I worried that this type of behavior will be detrimental to our relationship? Is there a past hurt that is triggering me? 

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After tackling your emotions, inquire if any beliefs, assumptions or projections need to be addressed. For example: Is this picture actually sexy and provocative or is it just a picture that triggers your relationship with your body? Do you feel frustrated that there seems to be a double standard that allows them to engage with sexual content but you’re expected not to? Simply explore what might be driving the feeling.

Make sure you communicate. You don’t need to have the perfect thing to say and you don’t need to justify the way you feel, but it is your job to be clear and honest. You may start the conversation by saying something like “When you like pictures that are (fill in the blank), I feel (fill in the blank).” Or, it can sound something like “I’ve noticed that when you like sexy pictures of other people it makes me uncomfortable/angry/sad, and I am working on trying to figure out why that is. While I do that, I just wanted to share with you where I am at.”

Your partner won’t just “know” if something makes you uncomfortable or hurts your feelings. It’s your responsibility to tell them. When communicating the task is to increase understanding and for each person to feel heard. The goal is not to impose rules or demand obedience. If you share your needs and boundaries but they do not want to or can’t respect them, then it’s time to have a more serious conversation and reassess the relationship. Can both people honor their boundaries in this relationship?

Give them a chance to share. It’s important to take a moment and hear your partner out. How do they feel about the situation? How do they feel about how you feel? What boundaries do they have? Is there a context you are missing? It’s easy in a situation like this to approach the situation with an “I am right and you’re wrong” attitude or to become accusatory, but a relationship is a partnership. The only way to reach an agreement (if possible) is to respect and acknowledge each other’s perspectives. 

Come to a conclusion. Open communication is great, and it’s equally important to have a takeaway. Are you both going to take a moment to reflect and then resume the conversation? Are you going to set or adjust your boundaries? Make sure you know how things will be different or the same as a consequence of the conversation. If there is no explicit conclusion, you may accidentally re-enact the conflict in a couple weeks, but this time with more frustration and resentment. 

Sara Kuburic is a therapist who specializes in identity, relationships and moral trauma. Every week she shares her advice with our readers. Find her on Instagram @millennial.therapist. She can be reached at [email protected].

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