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With the news of Gabby Petito’s death, it has become notorious the impact of social media on couples. We often see couples come into our office with idealistic visions of what their relationship should look like. For example, newlyweds sometimes seek counseling sessions fearing that their relationship is doomed, problematic, and unfixable with very solvable marital matters, such as repeated arguments or difficulty dividing housework.

While we don’t believe that Instagram is the reason for the downfall of certain model relationships, it certainly helps in the setting of unrealistic expectations. Relationships and marriage need some work to maintain, and this is not a bad thing. The belief that if a relationship does not work “organically” is a bad relationship, that is a belief that is unrealistic and negatively affects the health of a marriage. We are living with a whole new person with different views and upbringing, it’s only normal that we’d bump heads.

Often in relationships we are “learning on the job,” this is my fun way of normalizing learning how to cope and work through issues. Author Esther Parel discussed in her book “A State of Affairs” this matter exactly. She explains that in other types of relationships, such as in a job, there is a contract. In that contract it is laid out exactly what is expected from us, however, in relationships/marriage this is certainly not the case. We are often learning as we go or “learning on the job” how to define our connection and roles in the marriage. We learn throughout our relationship what makes our partner tick, what makes them angry, happy, sad, how they argue, their mannerisms, etc.

In social media, this is often not discussed. Most people only show their best on instagram. Like Gabby Petito, her and Brian’s videos often showed them in beautiful locations, kissing/holding hands, and most of all looking happy. However, with the recent news, it is clear that wasn’t the case in their relationship. Police body-cam footage showed them arguing, Gaby crying, and Brian acting non-empathetically. Unfortunately, Gaby’s life ended in a dark way, shocking many, and in the end Brian’s did as well.

What this sad situation calls from us as a society is to understand that the pressure of being “a perfect couple” is hurting people as they may protect their relationship in fear of being judged by the public. In this case it was in an extreme manner, where serious domestic violence took place. For most, this is a reminder that being perfect, as an individual or as a couple, does not equate to happiness and satisfaction. Therefore, while privacy is understandable, it is important to normalize discussion and even an argument with our spouse from time to time. It is perfectly healthy. There are skills to be learned to do this correctly if needed.

For example, in the Gottman method, the foundation is communication. Often, in sessions, we discuss the 4 main communication blockers which include criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness. Now, while the antidote for these are simple, they require practice with your partner. They include minimizing negative language, such as using extreme words (aka: always or never) or stating hurtful or labeling words. Other strategies include learning how to learn to manage emotions by self-soothing, and accepting mistakes.

Thankfully, there is a recent trend that is addressing this issue: “The red vs green flag trend.” While some of the posts are humorous, it seems to have opened some delightful and very real discussion on relationships.

Some of these red flag include:

• Invalidates feelings

• Lack of compromise

• Criticism, name calling

• Dismissiveness

• Avoiding problems

• Gaslighting

• Causing isolation from others

• Controlling resources such as finances

• Imposing decisions

• Unwilling to self-examine/accept feedback or apologize

• Making you feel unsafe in anyway

Some green flags include:

• Insight and self-awareness

• Makes you feel safe, respected

• Open communications

• Focus on self-growth AND relationship growth

• Empathy

I find that this recent trend and the Gabby Petito case has been opening the door to possible changes in social media to guide us to a place where we can understand that relationships can be happy, but still be hard and require growth, attention, patience, and plenty of compromise. While this blog is meant to be lighthearted, please remember that domestic violence is a real issue, as was with the case of Gabby Petitio, and it is important to realize these “red flags” early and reach out for help when it is safe to do so.

If you or anyone you know is involved in a domestic violent relationship, please call the DV hotline: 1-800-500-1119 or feel free to find any Domestic Violence shelters in the area using programs/domestic-violence/map.shtml.

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