Warning: Facebook can be hazardous to your relationship

There are more than 400 million active users on Facebook. It has grown into a huge social networking site. While it is useful in that it gives you access to all your networks of friends and family and helps you stay in touch, there are some dangers to be aware of.

In my practice, I have had a steadily increasing number of couples with complaints that Facebook has become an issue in their relationship. It doesn’t have to be, but if you are not careful, it can certainly wreak havoc.

Infidelity happens at the place where vulnerability meets opportunity and a choice is made. Anyone can be vulnerable to an affair. It is a dangerous thing to think your relationship is affair-proof. Vulnerability can result from issues in the relationship: poor communication, disconnection, or lack of intimacy. Vulnerability can result from external circumstances such as grieving the death of a loved one, loss of a job, birth of a child, anything that causes undue stress. Vulnerability can result from personal issues such as lack of self-worth, fear of intimacy, or substance abuse.  

Opportunity for an affair can come in different forms. It can come in the form of a friend, a co-worker, or friendly neighbor. In recent times, the Internet has broadened the depth of opportunity that is out there for an affair to occur.

Here is where Facebook becomes a threat. This is where people connect with ex-lovers, ex-flames, an ex-crush, or even with an old friend, and it might feel nostalgic to reminisce. This nostalgia can be mistaken for love interest. This may be innocent on the surface, but to the couple who is struggling, it becomes a great threat.

Here are some boundaries that may reduce the threat of Facebook on your relationship:

Be each other’s Friend so that nothing is hidden.

Do not connect with an old flame on Facebook unless you talk about it openly with your spouse and your spouse is comfortable with you doing so. But if you are having any difficulties in your relationship, avoid this at all costs.

Do not discuss any marital problems with people on Facebook. This is where the potential to share and relate opens the door to a deeper connection that threatens your relationship.

Make clear on your profile page that you are married or in a relationship.

If members of the opposite sex begin inappropriate sexual or flirtatious banter, put an end to it immediately and share it with your spouse.

Talk openly with one another with how you feel about certain types of friends on Facebook, and what each of your own personal boundaries are around its use. Be respectful of each other’s freedom of choice and privacy, but also respect each other’s boundaries on what is okay and not okay.

Be protective of your time as a couple. The other way that Facebook threatens a relationship is the amount of time spent chatting with friends, playing Farmville or Mafia Wars, or other addicting games that rob you and your partner of quality time. So put some limits around its use.

Facebook itself is not necessarily the issue, but it presents opportunities for connection that was not there before and something that may have started out as harmless fun can turn into something that breaks down trust in your relationship.

Facebook is not going anywhere any time soon. Online opportunities will continue to pose threats to the fidelity of your relationship. It is up to you to not let these outside influences inject themselves into the safety of your relationship.

Is it an affair?

There is the obvious definition of an affair, having sex with someone other than your spouse. But are there different types of affairs? And now that we have the Internet, how does that add to the problem.

One of the ways to define an affair is to ask the question, is what you are doing secretive? If your spouse knew what you were doing, would it hurt him or her? Are you going to someone outside your marriage to meet your emotional or physical intimacy needs?

Let’s use pornography as an example. If it is not done in secret, your spouse knows about it and is not hurt by it and it is not taking the place of physical or emotional intimacy with your spouse than that would not constitute as an affair. But let’s change it around. Let’s say you are using porn behind your spouses back, and knew that if he or she knew about it, it would be hurtful. And let’s also add that you are replacing emotional and physical intimacy with your partner with pornography, that could fit under the heading of infidelity.

Let’s say you talk often with a friend of the opposite sex. You might share intimate details of your life and marriage. If your spouse knows about this person and does not see this person as a threat to the relationship and you are not looking to this person to meet emotional needs that are not met by your partner, then that is a friendship. But let’s now take the same circumstances and your partner doesn’t know about this interaction, it’s secretive and if your partner knew about it would be hurt by it, and let’s also add that from this person you get emotional support that you don’t feel you get from your spouse, this constitutes as an emotional affair.

It is important to understand the physical and emotional boundaries of your marriage and to discuss them with one another. Going out to lunch with a co-worker of the opposite sex may be completely harmless, but if it is done without your spouse knowing about it, it could potentially be construed as betrayal. It also leaves the door open for a relationship to flourish if this were to become a regular thing and you tell yourself it is harmless but fail to share it with your partner. Boundaries not only need to be clearly defined, but they need to be respected.

We all have relationships with others outside our marriage, with friends, co-workers, extended family members. This is not only normal but also healthy. We also get emotional needs met from others aside from our intimate partner. But where is the boundary? What makes your intimate relationship unique? What are the things you share with your spouse that you would not share with another? What is sacred?

There is a closeness and connection between husband and wife that is special and unique. There is a bond of emotional and physical intimacy. If you are feeling disconnected from your partner, it is never a good idea to turn outside your marriage to deal with it. Whether it be by venting to friends or family, talking to a member of the opposite sex about your marital issues (by the way one of the most common ways an affair begins), having an affair, alcohol, gambling, drugs or other destructive means of coping. Disconnection must be dealt with in the marriage with communication, compassion, empathy, understanding and love. If you are unable to work through it by yourselves, seek the outside help of a qualified counselor or pastor from your church.

In Crisis: Where to Begin When You’ve Just Found Out About the Affair

Where do you begin when you’ve just found out your spouse has had an affair? Or, what if you are the one who’s had the affair and your partner has just found out?

If you’ve just found out your partner has had an affair, be prepared for the roller coaster of emotions. It is not a time to make any permanent life-changing decisions. Here are some important things to consider:

You do not have to know right now if you are going to stay or go. You are in crisis and may feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you. Give yourself time to make important decisions. Emotions are very raw right now so it’s okay to not know which direction to go yet.

Some people make the mistake of telling friends and family and then regret it later. So be choosy about who you share this with, the best route is to seek out a counselor who can help you sort through all the challenges that are in front of you. It’s also important to have a support system, again, select confidants carefully. There may be support groups in your area, seek these out through your local church or counseling center.

You are going to experience a lot of different emotions from anger to sadness, betrayal and fear, confusion and frustration. All this is normal. Research has shown that individuals who have been betrayed show symptoms of post traumatic stress. You may have flashbacks of the affair and images that you never even experienced. You will have triggers like when the phone rings or your partner gets a text message, where the fear and anger comes alive. You may want to cry one minute and scream the next.

In this kind of situation, the fight or flight response kicks in, but neither are conducive to moving forward. If you want to save your marriage, you can neither fight nor flight. A normal human reaction is to act out the rage and blame, yell at, accuse, distrust or check up on your partner. While these are normal reactions, they do continued damage to the relationship and to your own self esteem. Sometimes what might make you temporarily feel better in the moment, makes matters worse in the long run.

 Self care is critical during the time of healing. Self care includes things such as exercise, going for walks, getting enough sleep, spending time with those who are supportive, getting counseling, making sure you eat well and enough. These small things might seem trivial or difficult to do, but it is important to take care of yourself.

 You may want to ask questions or know details about the affair. It is okay to ask these questions, just be sure that you really want to know the answers. For some people the not knowing causes suffering and they would rather know, for others they would rather not know. There is no right or wrong, only you can know what is going to be helpful.

If you are the person who has had the affair, some important things to consider:

There is no right time frame for getting over an affair. So do not push your partner. Your patience and support is critical. Do not avoid talking about the affair, do not give excuses or blame. Right now your partner needs to know that you understand the impact this has had. This is not going to be easy for you either, but it is important that you remain supportive during this challenging period.

This may seem obvious but it bears pointing out: be honest. Be where you say you will be, do what you say you will do, don’t leave anything out no matter how insignificant it seems. Rebuilding trust is going to take time, but it starts now

Listen to your partner. If they ask questions and want to know the answers, it is important that you answer them with total honesty. Do not decide for them what they should and should not need to know. It is important to allow your partner to make the determination what he/she needs to or wants to know.

Be an open book for your partner. And remember, this is temporary. But this is an important time to be in close physical proximity to your partner to maintain a sense of safety. Allow your partner to see your phone, text messages, emails, to regain a sense of safety. You can, and it is necessary to, have your privacy back at some point, but for right now your partner may need this to begin the process of rebuilding trust and feeling safe.

You are going to go through difficult emotions as well. Guilt, shame, regret are all normal feelings to experience. It is important not to let them get in the way of being there and listening to your partner. It is also a good idea for you to seek counseling as well to deal with these emotions and to understand why you made this choice.

If you want to save the marriage (or even if you are unsure) it is important to seek couples counseling as soon as possible. It may take some time to find a counselor that you feel comfortable with. Remember, affairs happen in good marriages and to good people. There are many reasons why an affair occurs and it can take one to two years to recover whether you stay in the marriage or not. Take your time, seek help and work together to begin the healing process.

Breaking the cycle

If you don’t like a particular pattern you are in with your partner, instead of trying to change your partner,
look at how you can change what you are doing to create a change in the pattern.
Do the opposite of what you are currently doing and see what effect it has.

For example: Sara wants Jim to call more often when he is away on business trips, and when he doesn’t call she complains at him for not thinking of her and he ends up calling even less. So she breaks the pattern by stopping the complaining but being happy to hear from him. She doesn’t even mention how often he calls. Over time, this results in him calling more often.

So think about what current dysfunctional patterns you are in with your partner, what could you change in what you think, how you respond or react that might change the pattern?

Marriage partner

We all spend time thinking about and illustrating the kind of partner we want to have. But how often, if ever, do we think about the kind of partner we want to be? If you have already chosen the partner you want to be with, now it is time to focus on the kind of partner you want to be. Make a list of your ideal self as husband or wife. How far off are you from that ideal self? Everyday is a day to bring yourself closer to becoming that person.

Stop Grousing!

Grousing is to complain, nag, or criticize. These are deadly habits in relationships and over time can be highly destructive. So I challenge you to 3 days without grousing at your partner. Work to notice things done right rather than things done wrong, even if you have to take out a microscope to find them! Show appreciation and gratitude for your spouses contributions rather than finding fault. Do you think you can do it? (it’s not as easy as it sounds, and the longer you’ve been together, the harder it is!)

Kindness

“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”
George Eliot

Think of one thing you can do for your spouse today to make his/her life easier. Do it without expectations, do it just to be kind and loving and giving. If you do this everyday, what kind of marriage might you have?

Don’t go to bed angry

We have all heard the notion, don’t get to bed angry. I don’t disagree with the notion, however, not every conflict has a resolution that can be reached by sundown. So if you find yourself going round and round well into the night, don’t be afraid to put the argument to rest. Things often look different in the morning. After some rest and time to regroup, you can go back to the discussion in a calm manner, or sometimes you might just realize it wasn’t something even worth fighting about. So break the ice and get on with your day!

What makes marriage work? Boundaries for conflict resolution

What are the boundaries for effective conflict resolution in marriage? Often, when couples get married, they come into the marriage with unspoken expectations. A common one that comes up is the right to free expression. I should and have the right to express every emotion that I have in the name of honesty. Hogwash!! This can be incredibly damaging to a relationship! Some of this may sound contradictory to that last post that talked about being your genuine selves with each other, but in there I mentioned there has to be boundaries. Well in this post we are talking about those boundaries with the understanding that unbridled self expression can be very damaging to a relationship. It might feel good in the moment, but what feels good in the moment is not necessarily for the benefit of the relationship. Everything you say and do in your relationship will either move you closer together or push you further apart. So ask yourself that question when you are about to “express” yourself. Is this going to bring you closer or push you further?

Here’s an example: when my husband is with the kids for a few hours, I come home and the house is a disaster. If I were to come home and start complaining that the house is a mess, he might feel resentful that I don’t appreciate the time he spent with the kids so I could have some time for myself. I might feel annoyed that the house is a mess, but for the sake of the relationship and my husband’s feelings, I keep that to myself and focus on appreciating his efforts. Is that disingenuous? I don’t think so, because both feelings exist, but I choose to express the ones that will draw me closer to my spouse.

Think about how you can do this in your marriage. Next post I will write about how to express dissatisfaction about something in the relationship without pushing your partner away.

Thank you for visiting!

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What makes marriage work? Part 2

Here is part 2 in the series of what makes marriage work. My goal is to dish out tidbits of information that will help you improve your marriage.

This post will focus on conflict resolution. Conflict. It can be a scarey word to a lot of people but the avoidance of conflict will result in killing the passion in your relationship. When two human beings come together and allow themselves to be their authentic selves, there is going to be friction. To try to avoid this results in walking on eggshells and not being able to share genuine feelings, thoughts, beliefs and ideas for fear you are going to rock the boat.

Rock the boat! If communcation is dealt with inside the boundaries of love, respect, kindness, and empathy, conflict can lead to deeper understanding of one another which leads to a deeper level of intimacy. But it means allowing each other to be who you are and not trying to change each other. It means respecting one another’s views, feelings, and opinions. It means allowing your partner to feel what they feel and express emotions in a genuine way.

Embrace healthy conflict and have a happy New Year!

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