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Dirty laundry: The nature and substance of seeking relationship help from strangers online

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/12/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number12
Volume38
Number of pages24
Pages (from-to)3472-3496
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date23/10/21
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Interpersonal relationships are vital to our well-being and, in recent years, it has become increasingly common to seek relationship help through anonymous online platforms. Accordingly, we conducted a large-scale analysis of real-world relationship help-seeking to create a descriptive overview of the nature and substance of online relationship help-seeking. By analyzing the demographic characteristics and language of relationship help-seekers on Reddit (N = 184,631), we establish the first-ever big data analysis of relationship help-seeking and relationship problems in situ among the general population. Our analyses highlight real-world relationship struggles found in the general population, extending beyond past work that is typically limited to counselling/intervention settings. We find that relationship problem estimates from our sample are closer to those found in the general population, providing a more generalized insight into the distribution and prevalence of relationship problems as compared with past work. Further, we find several meaningful associations between relationship help-seeking behavior, gender, and attachment. Notably, several gender differences in help-seeking and romantic attachment emerged. Our findings suggest that, contrary to more traditional contexts, men are more likely to seek help with their relationships online, are more expressive of their emotions (e.g., discussing the topic of “heartache”), and show language patterns generally consistent with more secure attachment. Our analyses highlight pathways for further exploration, providing even deeper insights into the timing, lifecycle, and moderating factors that influence who, what, why, and how people seek help for their interpersonal relationships.