Social Networking Sites Can Strain Marriages

This WMUR-TV interview and story dates back to 2009 but of course it's a never ending story!  The problems for relationships -- with boundaries, trust, fidelity, sharing, decision making, and communications -- certainly aren't new, but Internet technology magnifies the problems ... And some things about Facebook in particular seem to add to this.

For example, when couples have profiles on Facebook, they have his and her profiles, not a shared profile. There's no convenient and fully functioning way to have a Couples Profile.  Yes, they can link to one another and make their relationship status clear.  Still, they are found by others and friended as individuals.  It can easily become too much about "me" not "us." One is found and friended by people more often from their individual past ... and partners' pasts may not intersect that much prior to their relationship with one another.  Not only are there people from your distant past, but there are people whose paths crossed with yours in inconsequential ways (You said hello at the sports bar or the gym, were introduced in a group of people, helped them with a task at work, or flirted with them in a way that seemed harmless at the time) and then they "find you" on Facebook.  With FB so widely used,  and with powerful search capacities, you will be found!

"You've got a Friend Request!" Names appear requesting to be "friends" (Friend is the only status offered:  they don't ask to be distant acquaintances, familiar faces, or ex-boyfriends!).  Then you are given the choice either to accept the friend request, deny or ignore it.  It's an awkward choice, not exactly like the real world (People don't tap you on the shoulder at the mall and ask, "Friend or not friend?")   Since it's "just on Facebook," too often it's almost automatic to accept the friend offer.  Once a friend, hard to delete!

What a mixture you then have among your cadre of so-called friends.  On your friend list are a few genuinely close friends and relatives, distant relatives, Aunt Jane who you haven't seen in years,  acquaintances, names and ghosts from the past, your work colleagues, your neighbors and local merchants, someone you just met yesterday, and who else?  What a gathering -- mishmash of people with whom you'd generally maintain very different "boundaries" and levels of sharing that could range from highly personal to nothing at all.  You are strangely exposed behind a nebulous boundary, yet may feel hidden, at a distance, alone behind your laptop or smart phone.

Then there's all that personal psychological stuff.   There can be a false sense of familiarity with some of these people whom you really don't know:  You may have grown-up in the same town, went to the same elementary school, were somewhere down the hall in the college dorm, have an interest or two in common, or feel some attraction you don't (really want to) understand.  But do you really know this person?  How much do you really have in common?  You dated her in ninth grade?  Do you really know her any better than a total stranger?  Or is she just someone who was present at an earlier time in your life, maybe a time to which you'd like to return for a visit?  Maybe a person and a time where there's unfinished business.  It's not a Pandora's Box that you usually would set out to open.  Ten years ago would you have hired a private detective to track down this person so you could re-unite!  No!  But Facebook is different.

Facebook is on your desktop or smartphone, and you may start to check-in regularly.  You start to pass through regularly,  kind of like going through the fast food drive-through  (Theme:  If it's too easy and convenient, it can become a problem).  It can be habit forming, and increasingly take the place of other activities and connections.  Then, at times of personal vulnerability -- when you're feeling down, stressed, preoccupied, lonely, old, insecure -- it can be too easy to turn away from the people in your life with whom you should strive to stay close and connected,  and instead find (perilous) comfort on Facebook ...

It is common now for couples to come to relationship and marriage counseling when Facebook play into an assumed "boundary" in their relationship being over-stepped and trust broken.   This can be very distressing for couples.  If there is a potential positive aspect, it's that it brings these concerns out into the open sooner for a couple to address.  Hopefully it allows the couple to face these risks, better understand what makes them vulnerable, talk about their needs and what's getting in the way, stop bad habits, make more explicit and understood their relationship agreements and commitments, and sure-up their relationship with one another.  While there might be a lasting loss of innocence for the couple, hopefully it will help "inoculate" them against some of these problems in the future.

[To Be Continued]