As a married person, is it okay to chat online or send private messages to Facebook members of the opposite sex?
There is no simple answer to this question. Everything depends on who these "members of the opposite sex" are, the context of your communication with them, the background of your relationships with them, and your reasons and motives for wanting to stay in touch. Are you talking about old friends of the family? Relatives? Co-workers? Members of a professional network? Or is this rather a question of renewing acquaintances with an "old flame" or two? For obvious reasons, it makes a huge difference.
From a certain perspective, maintaining a healthy marriage while wisely managing relationships with members of the opposite sex is no different in cyberspace than it is in the "real" world – for example, at a party, at a high school reunion, or while out to dinner with other couples at a restaurant. Sometimes it's just a matter of establishing and maintaining appropriate boundaries. On other occasions, it can be a fine art that requires wisdom, discernment, and maturity. In every circumstance, your love for your spouse and your commitment to your marriage should be your guiding principles. That love and that commitment represent the "bottom line" that determines all your thoughts, choices, and actions with reference to individuals of the opposite sex.
There are always compelling reasons to be cautious about opposite-sex friendships outside of your spouse's company. 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.
We should add that there is a sense in which social media can complicate this whole scenario in some subtle and elusive ways. Things get trickier when the secrecy, privacy, and relative anonymity that sometimes characterize online relationships are allowed to cloud the picture. If you value your marriage and genuinely desire to protect it, you need to be on your guard against unforeseen threats.
Never forget that some people have a tendency to slip into a different psychological "zone" when they log on to Facebook or Twitter. Without even realizing it, they can assume the attitude of another person living a "parallel life" in a "parallel world." In this state of mind, it's easy to forget normal inhibitions, disregard appropriate boundaries, and give in to tempting fantasies. Under these conditions, emotions can be deceptive. An "innocent" attraction can become the first step to a disastrous affair. Everything depends upon your ability to stay grounded and maintain a healthy sense of balance and perspective.
If you need help sifting through this information and applying these principles to your personal situation, don't hesitate to call and speak with a member of our Counseling department. They can also provide you with a list of licensed Christian marriage and family therapists practicing in your area.
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Making Marriage Work in a Social Media World