URC

Relationship Satisfaction, Confidence, and Outness in
Lesbian-Identified Facebook Users

Lexi Pulice-Farrow, Jennifer L. Hughes, and Ashley E. Bohnert
Agnes Scott College

Abstract

For this research we evaluated the relationships of 55 lesbian-identified Facebook users. We hypothesized that Lesbian-identified romantic partners who linked their partners would report greater relationship satisfaction than those who did not (H1). We also hypothesized that there would be a positive relationship found for lesbian-identified Facebook users for their relationship satisfaction and degree of outness (H2). Next, we hypothesized that Lesbian-identified romantic partners who did not link their partners on Facebook would report less relationship confidence than partners who had linked their partners (H3). Finally, if a user linked her partner, we hypothesized that she would be more likely to post and tag photographs with her partner (H4). For H1 and H3 t tests were used, while a correlation test was performed for H2. Finally, a chi-square test was run for H4. H3 was supported, users who did not link their partners reported lower levels of relationship confidence than users who did link their profiles. The results of this study can be used to create a more comprehensive picture of the way lesbian-identified Facebook users interact and feel about their romantic partners. These results can also be used to start a discussion between same-sex and heterosexual couples to see how each partner feels about linking each other on social networking sites and about what this linkage will mean to each partner.

Introduction

In 2010, there were nearly 2 million female users who self-identified as lesbians on the American Social Networking Site (SNS) Facebook (Corbett, 2010). However, this number does not contain the number of women who choose not to list a preference for the sex of preferred romantic partners, and those who choose to keep their sexual minority status private. Although the actual numbers are probably much higher than statistics show, there have only been a few studies conducted concerning lesbian relationships and SNSs. However, targeted studies concerning same-sex couples and relationship satisfaction can lead to a more comprehensive approach to future studies regarding SNSs and lesbian populations.

For lesbians, a major part of identity development can be the process of coming out. It also has been defined as one's outness. Coming out refers to the process of disclosure of a minority sexual orientation. It is a process that can continue throughout the span of the lifetime of someone who identifies as having a minority sexual orientation (Knoble & Linville, 2012). Outness is a level of disclosure that a lesbian has about her sexual orientation to the various people in her life. This can include friends, family, peers, coworkers, and supervisors.

Vaughn and Waehler (2009) conducted a research study concerning the levels of stress-related growth that is associated with coming out to others as a sexual minority. Coming out as a sexual minority is a calculated risk and can involve the loss of relationships with friends and family as well as a loss of social support. However, the benefits of coming out are enticing and can be beneficial to one's self-schema and self-esteem (Vaughn & Waehler, 2009). The researchers measured the stress-related growth derived from disclosing one's status as a sexual minority to others, which is known as coming-out growth(COG). They hypothesized that COG would be a specific part of growth, especially in identity characteristics. They found that the vast majority of gay men and lesbians in their sample exhibited at least some level of COG. There was evidence that more coming-out stress led to an increase in COG.

The relationship between outness and relationship satisfaction has been studied by a few researchers. Caron and Ulin (1997) performed one of the first studies that examined the relationship between levels of closeting (i.e., not being out) and relationship quality in lesbian couples. The researchers found relationship quality was positively correlated with levels of outness, but only when the participant was out to certain groups. These groups included family members (i.e., both immediate and extended) and friends. Levels of outness to workplace friends and supervisors had little to no effect on the perceived level of relationship quality. On a related note, if the participant felt more comfortable publicly expressing affection to his or her partner, the person had a higher level of relationship quality than those participants who did not feel comfortable expressing affection in public.

Jordan and Deluty (2000) examined the relationships between coming out, relationship satisfaction, and social support. The study focused on underrepresented minorities in the lesbian community, including older women, women of color, and closeted women. The researchers found that the more out a participant was, the greater the level of relationship quality reported. Secondly, if there was a discrepancy in outness between the two partners, there was a lower level of relationship quality reported.

Knoble and Linville (2012) performed a study that examined the relationship of outness and relationship satisfaction in same-gender relationships. They found that being in a relationship had a distinct effect on the outness of the partners. Being a couple increased the levels of overall outness and was seen as an expression of shared values. However, contrary to the research of both Jordan and Deluty (2000) and Caron and Ulin (1997), Knoble and Linville (2012) found that while levels of outness in partnerships do affect relationships, the degree of outness was not a predictor of relationship satisfaction.

Although these studies have all been related to romantic same-sex relationships and their relationship to the partners' levels of outness, there have been no studies that could be found about these relationships on SNSs. On SNSs it is difficult to be closetedamong some friends and out among others; it is an all or nothing expression of sexual identity. Facebook users may express their sexual identity through basic information, such as what gender they are romantically interested in, or through other ways, such as listing their relationship status, linking their partner's profile page to their profile via relationship status, and posting and tagging pictures of themselves with their partners. These actions can be a calculated risk, just as coming out in the real world can be.

Next the results of research studies about heterosexual romantic relationships and SNSs will be reviewed. One of the major ways that Facebook can impact romantic relationships is through the implication of romantic jealousy. Elphinston and Noller (2011) found a strong positive relationship between jealousy and surveillance behaviors. They found a relationship between the amount of time spent on Facebook and Facebook intrusion. Finally, there was a strong negative relationship found for relationship satisfaction and jealousy. The researchers suggested that the only time Facebook negatively affects a relationship is when there is a suspected cause for jealousy within that relationship.

Tokunaga (2011) also studied the use of Facebook surveillance in heterosexual romantic relationships. He found that factors relating to relationships, such as whether or not either of the partners had cheated, were not strong predictors of whether or not the romantic partners would monitor the others' page. However, if the partners were in a long distance relationship, they spent more time on their partner's page than those partners who lived close together. The study also found that the more time users spend on Facebook, the more time they would spend monitoring their partner's page as well.

Finally, Muise, Christofides, and Desmarais (2009) also studied specific jealousy linked to the amount of information accessible about romantic partners via Facebook. They found that the majority of participants were at least somewhat likely to add a romantic or sexual partner as a Facebook friend, and the vast majority of participants knew their partner had Facebook friends whom the participant had never met. They also found that women spent more time on Facebook than men did which is a predictor of Facebook-specific jealousy. They concluded that women experience this type of jealousy more than men do and if participants were predisposed towards jealousy, they were more likely to experience Facebook-specific jealousy.

As for dating partners on Facebook, Papp, Danielwicz, and Cayemberg (2012) found that the majority of dating partners reported similar levels of intensity concerning use of Facebook. They also found that females' indications of being partnered on their Facebook profile (e.g., listing corresponding relationship statuses with a partner, such as in a relationship or married) were not related to their partner's satisfaction, although it was the opposite for males. Verbal disagreements concerning Facebook were also related to a woman's lowered relationship satisfaction, although they had little to no effect on men's perceptions of relationships.

Another area that has been researched concerns whether or not Facebook users listed their true relationship status. Young, Dutta, and Dommety (2009) studied people seeking relationships on Facebook, meaning whether or not a participant would list their relationship status as single and then actively look for a relationship through Facebook. They found people who were more likely to list their relationship stats as single could be predicted by whether or not the participant had listed the gender of the people he or she was romantically interested in.

Another topic that concerns lesbian couples is whether or not they tag pictures of themselves and their romantic partners. No specific research could be found on that topic, but Ham, Chamberlin, Hambright, Portwood, Schat, and Bevan (2011) performed a content analysis of Facebook profile pictures. They found that the vast majority of profile pictures showed no activity, were posed, and were appropriate for all audiences. Half of all profile pictures had two or more people pictured in them.

Based on the literature presented, we proposed the following hypotheses for the current study:

H1: Lesbian-identified romantic partners who linked their partners on Facebook will report greater relationship satisfaction than lesbian-identified romantic partners who did not link their partners.

H2: A relationship will be found for Facebook users who identify as lesbian and their relationship satisfaction and degree of outness. Those who are more out will have more relationship satisfaction.

H3: Lesbian-identified romantic partners who have not linked their partners on Facebook will report less relationship confidence than partners who linked their partners.

H4: Facebook users who identify as lesbian and link their romantic partners on Facebook will be more likely to post photographs with their partner and allow tagging of photographs of the person with her partner.

Method

Participants

Our sample consisted of 55 lesbian-identified females who used Facebook and who lived in the United States. The participants were asked to list their racial background, and the majority (41, 74.5%) reported that they were White or Caucasian, 5 (9.1%) African-American or Black, 4 (7.2%) multi-racial, 3 (5.5%) Asian, and 2 (3.6%) were Hispanic. The average age of the sample was 21.96 years (SD = 3.11, range = 18 - 30). Over 30% of the participants had a graduated with a Bachelor's degree, while over 45 percent of the participants reported having some level of college education. Finally, 14.5 percent of the participants had completed some level of graduate school, and 7.3 percent had only completed a high school diploma.

Measures

Outness. Mohr and Fassinger (2000) created the Outness Inventory, which measures the degree to which different people in each sphere of the respondent's life openly talk about or know about the respondent's sexual orientation. There were seven roles selected, including the following: mother, father, extended family and relatives, siblings, work supervisors and professors, friends, and colleagues or classmates. Using a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 0 person definitely does not know about my sexual orientation status to 6 person definitely knows about my sexual orientation status, the respondents were asked to what degree they had come out to people in each of these categories. Lower scores indicated lower levels of outness, and each respondent had a mean score of outness. As noted by Vaughn (2007), this scale is a sophisticated approach to assessing the process of coming out to others. For this study, a .73 alpha reliability coefficient was found.

Photographs. The authors of this study created a 4-item instrument to measure how Facebook users felt about allowing pictures of their partners and themselves to be tagged or posted. The scale was measured using a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 never to 5 always. A sample item includes "my partner posts photos of us." Lower scores indicated more negative feelings about pictures being posted. For this study, a .91 alpha reliability coefficient was found.

Relationship confidence. Stanley, Hoyer, and Trathen (1994) developed the Confidence Scale, a 10-item measure used to identify a participant's level of confidence that he or she and his or her partner can stay a couple. A Likert scale ranging from 1 strongly disagree to 7 strongly agree was used, with an example item, "I believe we can handle whatever conflicts will arise in the future." Scores range from 10 to 70, with lower scores indicating less confidence in the relationship. Scores from this scale have been shown to be related to other relationship and individual characteristics and outcomes in meaningful ways (Rhoades, Stanley, & Markman, 2009; Whitton et al., 2007). Alpha coefficients were .85 for men's scores and .72 for women's scores. For this study, a .97 alpha coefficient was found.

Relationship satisfaction. Rusbult, Martz, and Agnew (1998) developed a satisfaction subscale of the Investment Model Scale. This 5-item instrument was used to measure the relationship satisfaction of participants. Each item was rated on an 8-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 do not agree at all to 8 agree completely, with a sample item, "this relationship is much better than others' relationships." Lower scores indicate less satisfaction with the relationship. This subscale has been shown to be related to such relationship characteristics as trust and adjustment (Rusbult et al., 1998). In three different studies, Alpha coefficients were found to be .92, .95, and .94 (Rusbult et al., 1998). For this study, a .92 alpha reliability coefficient was found.

Procedure

By way of social media and e-mail flyers, 28 research assistants recruited individuals with Facebook accounts who were living in the United States. The participants were directed to the website SurveyMonkey and asked to take an online survey. The participants needed to be able to take the survey online and had to be between the ages of 18 and 30 in order to be considered for this study. The participants were asked to complete surveys regarding basic demographics, outness, photographs, relationship confidence, and relationship satisfaction. Participation was voluntary, although the participants could be entered into a drawing to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

Results

The first hypothesis, lesbian-identified romantic partners who linked their partners on Facebook will report greater relationship satisfaction than lesbian-identified romantic partners who did not link their partners, was not supported, t(35) = 1.33, p = .19.

The second hypothesis was a relationship will be found for lesbian Facebook users' relationship satisfaction and degree of outness. This hypothesis was also not supported by the study, r(38) = -.31, p = .06.

The third hypothesis was that lesbian-identified romantic partners who have not linked their partners on Facebook will report less relationship confidence than partners who linked their partners. This hypothesis was supported, t(35) = .017, p = .045. A significant difference was found between partners who have linked their partners on Facebook and their relationship confidence (M = 63.31, SD = 9.66), and partners who did not link their partners (M = 52.95, SD = 14.21). In this study, users who did not link their partners on Facebook had significantly lower levels of relationship confidence than users who did link their partners.

The final hypothesis was not supported. A difference was not found between whether a Facebook user linked her partner or not and the likelihood of allowing posting and tagging of pictures with her partner, c2 (8, N = 38) = 5.38, p = .72.

Discussion

Only the third hypothesis was supported. Lesbian-identified romantic partners who had not linked their partners on Facebook reported less relationship confidence than users who had linked their partners. The three other hypotheses were not supported. Lesbian-identified romantic partners who linked their partners on Facebook did not report greater relationship satisfaction as compared to romantic partners who did not link their partners. No relationship was found for relationship satisfaction and degree of outness. Finally, lesbian-identified users who linked their romantic partners on Facebook were not more likely to allow posting or tagging of pictures with their partner.

Prior research using heterosexual partners found that heterosexual users were more likely to display greater relationship confidence when they linked their partner's page to their page than when they do not (Sullivan, 2013). Our research results support this finding, but use a lesbian-identified population. When lesbian-identified partners linked their partner's page to their page, they displayed a higher degree of relationship confidence. This outing could represent a higher level of relationship confidence. The users that are not linked might be less out. This would be in line with Knoble and Linville's (2012) findings that levels of outness do affect levels of confidence in partnerships.

Although there have been multiple studies conducted on heterosexual romantic partners and Facebook, this is one of the only studies done on same-sex couples. This study goes against what prior research has stated about the effects of outness on same-sex couples. In this study, we found that there was no relationship between outness and relationship satisfaction. However, our p value approached significance and we did have a small sample size. Prior research supported a relationship. Studies performed by Jordan and Deluty (2000) and Caron and Ulin (1997) both found that there was a positive correlation between levels of outness and relationship quality and satisfaction. However, in the most recent study performed by Knoble and Linville (2012) it was found that while a partner's overall level of outness did have an effect on the relationship, it was not a predictor of relationship satisfaction.

It was interesting that there was no relationship between whether or not a lesbian- identified Facebook user linked her partner and relationship satisfaction. Although there have not been many studies conducted on the linking of partner's profiles, the previous research performed by Papp et al. (2012) on same-sex relationships and heterosexual relationships and SNSs suggested this relationship.

The results of this study are relevant to the world today. Although more and more people are becoming active on SNSs, the amount of lesbians on these sites will increase as well. SNSs are becoming more and more relevant in the ways with which people interact with romantic partners. The results of this study can be used to create a more comprehensive picture of the way lesbian-identified Facebook users interact and feel about their romantic partners. The results also can be used to start a discussion between same-sex and heterosexual couples to see how each partner feels about linking each other on SNSs and about what this linkage will mean to each partner. For example, if this linkage means more to one partner than the other, the couple can discuss other ways that affection and expressions of love can be shown in order to nullify these negative consequences.

A strength of this study is that it contributes to the current literature concerning romantic relationships on Facebook. The study was in line with current research that showed users who link their romantic partners on Facebook will have a higher level of relationship confidence than partners who do not. This study contributes to current literature by being the first study to investigate SNSs and lesbian-identified users' relationships.

The main weakness of this study was the low sample size. Although we had 55 lesbian-identified females take the survey, this small sample size could be the reason that the results were not consistent with some of the prior research literature. It would be beneficial to replicate this study with a larger sample size of lesbian-identified women in order to see if the results we obtained carry over to a larger sample. 

Another weakness of this study was the majority of the participants were White college educated females under the age of 25. In the future, it would be good to replicate this study with a more diverse population, using a wider range of education, race, and age.

Because there is so little research that has been performed on same-sex relationships via SNSs, it would be beneficial to replicate this study by using a gay male sample. Studying a population of older lesbian partners would be interesting as well. Because the population in the current study ranged from 18 - 30, older users were left out. Studying an older generation would be interesting because they may have different opinions about linking a partner or allowing tagging in pictures. However, because this population may be less likely to be as out as a younger population, it might be hard to recruit a large sample.

References

Caron, S. L., & Ulin, M. (1997). Closeting and the quality of lesbian relationships. Families in Society, 78(4), 413-419. doi:10.1606/1044-3894.799

Corbett, J. (2010, April 19). Facebook gay men and lesbian statistics – Pakistan and Washington, DC standout. Retrieved from: http://istrategylabs.com/...

Elphinston, R.A., & Noller, P. (2011). Time to face it! Facebook intrusion and the implications for romantic jealousy and relationship satisfaction. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(11), 631-635. doi:10.1089/cyber.2010.0318

Ham, N. J., Chamberlin, P. E., Hambright, B. L., Portwood, A. C., Schat, A. C., Bevan, J. L. (2011). A picture is worth a thousand words: A content analysis of Facebook profile pictures. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(5), 1828-1833. doi:10.1016/j.chp.2011.04.003

Jordan, K. M., & Deluty, R. H. (2000). Social support, coming out, and relationship satisfaction in lesbian couples. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 4, 145-164. doi:10.1300/J155v04n01.

Knoble, N. B., & Linville, D. (2012). Outness and relationship satisfaction in same gender couples. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38(2), 330-339. doi:10.1111/j.1752-0606.2010.00206.x

Mohr, J. J., & Fassinger, R. (2000). Measuring dimensions of lesbian and gay male experience. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 33, 66–90. Retrieved from PsycInfo.

Muise, M., Christofides, E., & Desmarais, S. (2009). More information than you ever wanted: Does Facebook bring out the green-eyed monster of jealousy? Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 12(4), 441-444. doi:10.1089/cpb.2008.0263

Papp, L., Danielwicz, J., & Cayemberg, C. (2012). "Are we Facebook official?" Implications of      dating partners. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(2), 85-90. doi:10.1089/cyber.2011.0291

Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2009). The pre-engagement cohabitation effect: A replication and extension of previous findings. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 107–111. doi:10.1037/a0014358

Rusbult, C. E., Martz, J. M., & Agnew, C. R. (1998). The Investment Model Scale: Measuring commitment level, satisfaction level, quality of alternatives, and investment size. Personal Relationships, 5, 357-391. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.1998.tb00177.x

Stanley, S. M., Hoyer, L., & Trathen, D. W. (1994). The Confidence Scale. Unpublished manuscript, University of Denver.

Sullivan, B. P., Hughes, J. L., & Ha, U. T. (2013, March). Linked Facebook profiles: Measures of confidence, satisfaction, and jealousy in linked-partner profiles. Undergraduate poster      presented at the Southeastern Psychological Association conference, Atlanta, GA.

Tokunaga, R. S. (2011). Social networking site or social surveillance site? Understanding the use of interpersonal electronic surveillance in romantic relationships. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(2), 705-713. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.08.014

Vaughn, M. E. (2007). Coming out growth: Conceptualizing and assessing experiences of      stress-related growth associated with coming out as lesbian or gay. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Akron.

Vaughn, M., & Waehler, C. (2009). Coming out growth: Conceptualizing and measuring stress-related growth associated with coming out to others as a sexual minority. Journal of Adult Deviance, 17, 94-104. doi:10.1007/s10804-009-9084-9

Young, S., Dutta, D., & Dommety, G. (2009). Extrapolating psychological insights from Facebook profiles: A study of religion and relationship status. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 12(3), 347-350. doi:10.1089/cpb.2008.0165

Whitton, S. W., Olmos-Gallo, P. A., Stanley, S. M., Prado, L. M., Kline, G. H., St Peters, M., & Markman, H. J. (2007). Depressive symptoms in early marriage: Predictions from relationship confidence and negative marital interaction. Journal of Family Psychology, 21(2), 297. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.21.2.297

 


URC RESOURCES:

©2002-2016 All rights reserved by the Undergraduate Research Community.

Research Journal: Vol. 1 Vol. 2 Vol. 3 Vol. 4 Vol. 5 Vol. 6 Vol. 7 Vol. 8 Vol. 9 Vol. 10 Vol. 11 Vol. 12 Vol. 13 Vol. 14 Vol. 15
High School Edition

Call for Papers ¦ URC Home ¦ Kappa Omicron Nu

KONbutton K O N KONbutton