Yesterday I talked with another wife emotionally involved with an old boyfriend she bumped into online on Facebook. No surprise there. Every month couples enroll in our workshop for marriages in crisis because one of them – usually the wife – had an affair with someone found on one of the social networking sites.
Before you lecture me about how the Internet is neither good nor bad, just a tool, please know that I am not a Neo-Luddite, technophobe, or antimodernist. It’s a great thing to be able to track down old friends online. My wife Alice and I tried for years to find Rhonda, one of my former students. We tried the alumni association, search engines, and everything else that wouldn’t cost a bundle. Nothing worked until Facebook. There she was, easy to find, and we renewed our friendship. Thank you, Facebook.
However, there is another side to this. Every month I see firsthand how it can also be a bad thing to be able to track down old friends, or even to make new friends with the stroke of a key. Thousands of marriages are in trouble this very moment because someone kindled an improper relationship on the Internet. They're even being called, "Facebook Affairs" in today's lingo. That isn’t the fault of social networking sites, nor of the Internet itself, of course, but those tools make it much easier to get into these situations. We likely agree that a person that develops a relationship with someone other than his/her spouse had some type of vulnerability that preceded the illicit relationship. Where we might not agree is how many married people have such vulnerabilities. Based on my work with couples over the last fifteen years, I’d say many people that think they aren’t vulnerable are indeed vulnerable. A marriage doesn’t have to be bad for one person to feel unfulfilled. It just has to fall short of what one or the other needs or expects. I wish I had kept count of the number of times I’ve worked with someone involved with another who said, “I don’t know how this happened. I thought we were okay. How did I get into this mess?”
Recently a few people corresponded with me about social networking sites and potential marital problems. One lady wrote, “My marriage is in trouble because of what I told myself was innocent flirting. Now I am paying the price for it. MySpace, AIM, and Facebook are all places where a married person can get into trouble."
Another wife wrote, “I believe the key is being aware of the dangers and not assuming ‘it can't happen to me.’ Most dangerous relationships start out very innocently. The needs that are not met will suddenly be filled by someone else: Satan makes sure the void is filled.”
This lady said, “Facebook and other social sites can be very dangerous to a marriage. I think, mainly, because it seems so innocent and so normal to contact people from the past, even people who are from your intimate past.”
Husbands get involved online as well, but, interestingly, most couples that come to our workshop do so because the wife became entangled with another.
How should a person make sure that s/he never crosses the line on a social networking site, or any other site?
First, always work on your marriage. Never take it for granted. Even good marriages may be corruptible because of boredom, feelings of loneliness, desire for a simpler life, cravings for romance, or just plain old curiosity. At least every six months, couples should do something together to strengthen their marriage. Work through a good marriage book, check out our marriage seminar, spend a few hours with a mentor couple, or take a long weekend without the children, work, or any interruptions and do a lot of talking about whatever comes to mind.
Second, always think “it could happen to me” and place boundaries so that it cannot. Do NOT flirt! Yes, it can stroke the ego, but it can also plant the seed of the poison that will destroy you. One woman wrote, “Pay attention to the red flags and pray for strength when they come along. And be willing to hit the ‘remove from friends’ button if the relationship is moving into the flirting zone.” The problem comes when you wait until later rather than sooner to stop. Wait long enough, and you will not stop. That's when an affair is likely to happen.
Third, be completely, positively, absolutely open and honest with your spouse about everything. A wife shared, “If your spouse asks who just 'whispered' you online, don't do as I used to and tell him 'no one' when it's someone you shouldn't be talking to. Be honest about who you are communicating with. Openness with your spouse regarding your Facebook is the key.”
Fourth, be honest with yourself about what your weaknesses or intentions might be. The words of this lady hit the target squarely, “I am friends with a couple of ex-boyfriends on Facebook, but my husband knows about them and I know better than to flirt with disaster. My marriage isn't perfect, but it is where I want to be and because of that, I will not risk my family for a rekindled, already failed, long past, relationship. What do people often say is the definition of insanity? Repeating the same process over and over, expecting a different outcome. I learned the first time that these relationships were doomed and detrimental to me. My husband is the better man for me. However, someone with a shaky marriage or any doubt of their self-control should not tamper with old flames on any social network. That would be asking for trouble and trouble will usually find those who are asking for it.”
Finally, some couples need to treat social networking sites just as other couples must treat porn sites. If the weakness or propensity exists for either husband or wife to develop relationships that may harm the marriage, get the Internet out of your house and keep it out your house. Drastic? Yes. However, when preventative measures fail and the medicine doesn’t work, it takes surgery to save a life.
Joe Beam is Founder and Chairman of LovePath International, Inc., a corporation founded to guide people through the processes of love and specializing in saving marriages in crisis. Desiring to change the way couples live and love, he developed the LovePath system, a unique and highly effective methodology that combines a solid knowledge of relationship principles, human behavior, and group dynamics. Joe Beam leads a powerful marriage seminar to help troubled marriages. For more information on getting help for your marriage, click here. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.