Virtually everyone has a Facebook presence now. It's becoming one of the primary ways that people communicate. However as with almost everything, there are downsides. For those who are married, these need to be taken seriously.
Consider these four ways that Facebook could damage your relationship.
1. It can take up a lot of your partner's free time
Does your spouse spend hours online checking Facebook and exchanging comments, anecdotes, and personal updates? If so, you are not alone. People everywhere are sitting in restaurants, on planes and trains, at parties and other social events, and yes, even when spending quiet time with partners—going online and spending time with virtual friends.
Free time is a commodity that most of us do not have enough of. Therefore if your partner is spending that time online rather than sharing it with you, your relationship will lose out. This can become a habit that grows over time and eventually you might have little to say to one another or little interest in what the other has to share. Over time this distance could grow and lead to a loss of communication and intimacy in your marriage.
2. Your partner can easily reconnect with an old love
Virtually everyone has tried Googling an old friend in order to get information on how they are and where their life has taken them. This often happens when someone is recovering from a failed relationship and thinking about past loves and what might have been. They decide to look up their first or most significant (ex) love, and it just happens to be your spouse. Out of the blue they send a message that they would like to friend them in order to catch up and hear all their news. Sounds pretty innocent, right?
Their intentions might be just that, but we know what can happen with good intentions. Your spouse is happy, maybe even flattered, to hear from him or her. They fill each other in on what is happening in their lives, dish about mutual friends, and agree to keep in touch. If an old flame reignites for either of them, this connection can be fueled by nostalgia for a simpler time, and the selective memories of how great it was between them can grow into something more. After all, a connection like this can provide a fun and romantic escape from the challenges of their present life, which includes you. As their interactions increase and their bond grows, you can find yourself on the outside questioning the relationship and what you can or should do about it.
3. Online 'friendships' can turn into something more
People are often approached with a friend request by the friend of a friend who has seen their page. Perhaps they share a common passion or interest, this other person might work in the same industry, or they might have many mutual friends. Maybe there is no special reason, just a desire on the part of the one seeking the connection to build their network.
Once they are friends, all their posted personal information, likes, interests, and work and personal news are available to one another. There can be a growing feeling of intimacy even if they have never met in person. Over time, this could lead to more online and potentially offline.
These relationships don't usually start with the intent of crossing marital boundaries. It's more of a slow creep where one day they wake up to find they have become emotionally involved with someone. Perhaps they are thinking more and more about this person each day and increasingly initiating contact with them. This is an emotional affair—and only a step away from physical infidelity.
4. It's hard to establish appropriate boundaries when it's an online friend
There are many couples who are comfortable with their partner having friends, offline and on. A number of these folks are also open to the idea that exes can be just friends. They often have transparent relationships with their spouses and know each other's online passwords and share many mutual friends. They hear the stories about Facebook friendships creating problems for others, including close friends and family members, but have never really worried about this happening to them.
Consider this example: An old flame contacts the spouse of one of these happily-married women. She knows the history and that it was her spouse who broke off the relationship before they met. She also knows this ex had a hard time moving on.
Instead of waiting for the interaction to progress, it's important you voice your concerns to your spouse. He or she may brush it off as nothing. Nevertheless, an understanding of clear boundaries must be established early on.
A healthy relationship doesn't require a username, but it does require frequent updates to be sure open and honest communication is always in place. Keep the lines of communication open, truly listen to what each has to say and continue to give trust and show respect while also addressing any red flags as soon as they appear.
Toni Coleman, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist. She is a well-known relationship expert and author, working with many publications, television and radio programs. Follow her on Twitter @CoachToni and FB at www.facebook.com/coachtoni.coleman. Toni writes for HopeAfterDivorce.org and FamilyShare.com.