Can you offer any guidelines as to how much social media communication is appropriate for married persons when it involves individuals of the opposite sex? Are there any signs that might indicate when an online relationship is in danger of crossing the line of impropriety?
The basic rule of thumb-which should be pretty obvious-is this: if you're spending more time interacting with members of the opposite sex via Facebook than you are interacting with your own spouse, something isn't right. Something needs to change. If this is an accurate description of your situation, we'd urge you to sit down with your spouse and take a very close look at your relationship. If necessary, do this with the assistance of a trained marriage counselor.
You should also ask yourself exactly why you are interested in maintaining connections with individuals of the opposite sex via social media. Take some time to evaluate your motives. Is it possible that you're looking for ways to meet a need that your marriage isn't meeting for you at the present time? We're not necessarily suggesting that this is the case, although our counselors have indicated that this is often an underlying or even unrealized factor. We're just saying that it deserves some thought.
Remember that there are always compelling reasons to be cautious about opposite-sex friendships outside of your spouse's company, both online and off-line. Before you were married you may have had lots of friends of the opposite sex, but things are different now. Once you've said "I do," your bond with your spouse must take priority over every other relationship. Most affairs begin as an innocent connection between two people. Time spent together, whether face-to-face, by phone, or via computer, can lead to the sharing of intimate secrets. This in turn can erode the foundation of trust which is essential to every marriage. When that happens, it's just a short step to betrayal and infidelity.
Are there any red flags or danger signs to watch for? Absolutely. When it comes to ''friends" of the opposite sex, you should regularly take stock of your own behavior and attitudes. Get together with your spouse, draw up a list of appropriate boundaries and "best practices," and make a promise to stick with them. Ask yourself whether you might be using social networking in inappropriate ways. For example, are you overly quick to "like" or become a "fan" of any particular individual's postings? Could you have ulterior motives-motives you don't even want to admit to yourself-for doing so? Do you frequently find yourself compelled to visit this person's Facebook page just to "keep up"? Is there a glaring imbalance between the number of your male and female online "friends"? These can all be indications that something is not quite right with your marriage.
There are also some warning signs to look for in the specific content of your communications with members of the opposite sex. Do your conversations include things that should be kept between you and your spouse? Is there anything secretive about the messages you send to one another? Do you find yourself daydreaming about any of these friends? Do you look for excuses to visit them online? Do you share thoughts, feelings, or problems with them that you don't reveal to your spouse? Are you convinced that they understand you better than your spouse does? If so, there's a danger that these relationships may be crossing the line between the platonic and the romantic.
If you're like many couples, you could probably use some help sorting this out. Our staff would be happy to discuss your questions with you over the phone if you'd care to give them a call. You can contact our Counseling Department for a free consultation Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Mountain time at 855-771-HELP (4357). The Family Help Center staff member who answers the phone will arrange for a licensed counselor to call you back. One of them will be in touch just as soon as they're able. We can also provide you with referrals to qualified counselors in your area who specialize in marriage and family therapy. Our team would consider it a privilege to come alongside you in any way they can.
Making Marriage Work in a Social Media World (broadcast)
Unfriend Yourself (book)
Covenant Eyes - Provider of Internet accountability and filtering services.