Social Networking: 6 Ways to Protect Your Marriage Don't let old flames ruin your marriage. Use these 6 guidelines to help make social networking marriage-safe. DR. KAREN GAIL LEWIS
Being secretive about connecting with an ex online is a big mistake.
Why do people begin searching social networking sites to find people from their past? Perhaps they do this as a reaction to hinder post holiday blues or maybe to feed the desire to catch up with the past, which has become more pressing with the New Year.
The New Year and old friends are less relevant when a person is in their teens and 20s because they are still living in the present. However, once a person enters their 30s and beyond, there can be a strong pull to recapture a part of the past that holds special meaning—when they had love, excitement and possibilities of a perfect future. The less exciting a person’s present is, the more appealing it is to look backward to a time when they felt very alive.
Which brings us to social networking, a tool that has made it almost too easy to look up old lovers—seeing how their lives have evolved.
What can be wrong with that? Well, nothing, if the intent is innocent curiosity and if one’s marriage is in a good place. However, if the marriage is troubled, there is potentially plenty wrong with that. A bad marriage leaves that person vulnerable to seeking happiness elsewhere. Fantasies of old flames can reignite lost passion and a desire for emotional closeness.
One such instance occurred when Jonathan found Sharon on Facebook, 20 years after he dumped her one week after their high school prom. She had never married, while he had and was also the father of two teenagers. During months of e-mailing and texting, Sharon proved a sympathetic listener to his sense of isolation and loneliness within his own marriage. He found they could talk easily, picking up with the friendship they had had years before. They shared feelings they had never shared with others.
After a few months, they decided to cross a few states and meet half way. Then, they talked of marriage. Shortly after, Jonathan went through with his divorce and months later he and Sharon married. Not surprisingly, and after only four months, they divorced.
What happened? Fantasy was hit hard by reality. They went into a marriage without really spending time to know each other as they are today. Their romance was fueled by their history (as 18-year-olds) not their adult present. The romantic idea of reconnecting with an old lover, at a time Jonathan was unhappy in his marriage, was a recipe for danger.
In talking about it later, Jonathan realized he had not intended to start up a romance; he hadn’t intended to leave his marriage in the first place. As he and Sharon shared feelings, he felt more cared for by her than by his wife. When asked who raised the issue of marriage, he wasn’t sure. "Perhaps she pushed it, but I may have just been musing and saying something like, 'Wouldn’t it have been great if we got married,' and that led her to talk about marriage. I wonder if I led her on? Did I promise more than I had realized and then feel in love with my own fantasy?"
Back to the question of what happened: Jonathan was lonely in his marriage, but he turned his longing to another woman who was not in a relationship. It would have been safer for them—and made their marriage more secure—if he expressed to his first wife about his dissatisfaction in the marriage and sought expert advice. Then, if that relationship proved unsalvageable, he could have divorced and then sought out Sharon. In retrospect, Jonathan said, "I don’t know if my first marriage had to end or whether I just didn’t try hard enough."
Social Networking Guidelines for Married Couples
Like Jonathan’s story, we can all stand to learn a lesson or two about the proper ways to use social networking and still have a healthy marriage. Here are some guidelines to protect your marriage while still enjoying your social life on the internet.
1. Be clear about your agenda in contacting the other person. Jonathan lost that clarity.
2. Limit the frequency of your contacts. This sets a good boundary around the social networking contact. Jonathan increased the intimacy as they increased the frequency of their contact.
3. Don't talk intimately. By not sharing intimacies with your correspondence, you reduce the chance of sending a message that you want a more intimate relationship. Jonathan may have well sent the message to Sharon that he wanted to intensify their connection.
4. Let your spouse know with whom you are contacting. This openness makes it clear you have nothing to hide. Since Jonathan was so disconnected with his wife, he could not (and did not) do this.
5. Share your outgoing and received e-mails/texts with your spouse. Sharing communications removes any chance for jealousy or misunderstandings. Again, Jonathan failed to take this action. Jealousy was not the price he paid; he paid with two divorces.
6. Do not meet in person unless your spouse is with you. Meeting up with old friends with your spouse by your side is a reminder that you two are a team and removes sending mixed messages to your former lover. This also reinforces the importance of fixing your marriage before playing with the flames of old flames.
**Editor's Note: Names have been changed by request.**
Dr. Karen Gail Lewis is a marriage and family therapist of 39 years and is the author of numerous relationship books on enhancing marriage, being single, improving adult sibling relationships and on strengthening friendships. Her most recent book is, "Why Don’t You Understand? A Gender Relationship Dictionary" (GenderDictionary.com). She can be contacted at DrKGL@DrKarenGailLewis.com.