This is the most popular comment on any online news story about how social networks affect marriages.
We should know. Being the co-authors of Facebook and Your Marriage, we’re quoted and referenced in hundreds of articles and stories about social media and relationships and the “Facebook doesn’t wreck relationships, people using Facebook does” or some equivalent is posted in the comments almost every time.
No duh! No one is blaming the website itself for marital break ups. No one claims that Mark Zuckerberg is conspiring to wreak relationship havoc on the world.
Having spent the last four years observing and studying the phenomenon of how relationships are impacted by people’s online habits, there’s something different about Facebook.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, we were quoted on one reason why this is:
“Affairs happen with a lightning speed on Facebook … In the real world, office romances and out-of-town trysts can take months or even years to develop. On Facebook, they happen in just a few clicks. The social network is different from most social networks or dating sites in that it both re-connects old flames and allows people to ‘friend’ someone they may only met once in passing. It puts temptation in the path of people who would never in a million years risk having an affair.”
Add to this that people feel bolder behind a screen than in person, people still foolishly believe that “what happens on Facebook, stays on Facebook,” people type and press ‘Send’ faster than common sense can kick in, and people feed off the rush they’re feeling rather than rationally thinking about what they’re doing. This is a recipe for disaster, and it happens at quantum speed on Facebook.
Based on all our work in this field, here are the top eight ways Facebooking spouses wreck their marriage on the popular social network.
1. Traipsing down memory lane with an ex-flame: Finding an old crush, hook-up, or boyfriend/girlfriend on Facebook is really easy. Reaching out to a past love interest and reminiscing about the “good ‘ol times” recalls the feelings for one or both of the people. The longer the jaunt down memory lane, the better the chances that an emotional or physical affair will occur.
2. Letting Facebook dominate every waking moment of the day: The smart phone allows people to be a few thumb clicks away from Facebook and access their News Feed anyplace, anytime. This in turn can feed an addictive personality and create a sort of co-dependency with the site. Unrealistically comparing the new and exciting information people are posting online with the drab and boring life from one’s own real-time existence can create all kinds of problems.
3. Airing dirty laundry via status updates: The “What’s on your mind” question in the Status Update box is there as a suggestion, not a command. Relationships have good times and bad times. Using Facebook to announce marriage problems, debate marital issues or rant on a spouse is only going to make a conflicted relationship more “complicated”.
4. Over sharing on relationship problems with others through chat: Divulging marriage issues through a private, real time interaction with someone other than your spouse creates intimacy with that person. Depending on the motives of one or both people in the chat session, things can quickly evolve from sharing about a current, bad marriage to setting a foundation for staring a new relationship.
5. Caring for online citizens in Cityville or virtual animals in Farmville more than real time family and spouse: Playing games on Facebook is wildly popular. The excitement of the online game, the notification of new resources to help advance in the digital game, and the exchange of items for the game can leave real-time families and spouses wanting time and attention.
6. Flirting on public posts, pictures and profiles: Commenting is a part of the Facebook culture. Watching what you post (and how it comes across to others) is part of online etiquette. Ensuring that comments are not inappropriate is a part of personal decency. Flirting with no one but your spouse is a part of fulfilling the wedding vows.
7. Friending people who directly or indirectly threaten the marriage: The Facebook log in page says “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.” Depending on who the people in your past and current life are, this could be a good thing or a bad thing. And if they have a negative effect on a marriage, it’s even worse. These include, but are not limited to: exes, negative influences, flirts, wacky family members, and crude friends.
8. Refusing to talk about what happens on Facebook with spouse: Facebook is no longer a topic for “water cooler” discussions, it is the water cooler. If it is something everyone is talking about, and where people spend a considerable amount of time each day, why shut your spouse out of this part of your life? Taking Facebook off the table for discussion indicates that there could be something that someone is hiding. Stonewalling on Facebook (or any other issue) is fatal for a marriage.
Facebook is a primary means of daily communication and is a part of most people’s daily lives. Therefore, Facebook needs to be a regular discussion item for couples. In addition to friending exes and sharing passwords, other topics to include in the conversation include personal guard rails, online boundaries for your relationship, and accountability. (If you need help on this, an entire section in Facebook and Your Marriage walks couples through talking through these issues.) Let the Facebook topic help you connect and share with your spouse.
Whatever it takes, don’t let what happens on Facebook ruin your marriage.
Share what’s on your mind!
Are there other ways to ruin your marriage on Facebook? What are ways to help people change from ruining their marriage to improving their marriage? What online guard rails have you and your spouse set up to protect your relationship?
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Copyright © 2012 K. Jason and Kelli Krafsky – Permission granted to use and reproduce with proper source citation.