This post is not about bashing technology. Rather, it’s about considering some of the ways in which marriages can be unknowingly left vulnerable, in an age that offers so many ways of communicating, but sometimes fails to provide the true connection we as humans seek. Extramarital affairs begin in many ways and for many different reasons. The Internet just adds another layer of accessibility. I am not suggesting that you stop using social media, but that you consider how you can use it to present a united front that can contribute to the strengthening of your marriage.
The following are some ways to keep healthy boundaries online and strengthen your most intimate relationship in the process. These suggestions have come out of my work with couples, particularly those who have suffered the impact of an emotional or physical affair, as well as couples who are interested in protecting their marriage from a proactive stance:
- Think about the message you are sending online to others. Post pictures with you and your partner. Link your profiles together. These actions make it abundantly clear that you are married.
- Be aware of online flirtation. A good rule of thumb for knowing whether you might be crossing the line is would you say it in person if your spouse was standing right there?
- Share usernames and passwords.
- Include your partner in status updates periodically.
- Don’t criticize your spouse online.
- Keep your partner aware of who your online friends are.
- Have a mutual agreement about “friending” exes and members of the opposite sex (the key here is mutual agreement. What can you reasonably agree upon?)
Perhaps you’re thinking, “I would never do anything. My partner should just trust me!” I can assure you from working with many couples where infidelity occurred that in the majority of cases, the person who committed infidelity was not actively seeking an affair. Rather, a slippery slope of smaller boundary violations occurred over time, resulting in betrayal. If your marriage has suffered as a result of infidelity, it’s important to recognize that transparency is essential for rebuilding trust. Transparency is the antidote to deception. I invite you to think about the ways that developing stronger boundaries will show that you are honoring your relationship and keeping it a priority.
It’s not so important that you follow these “rules of engagement” precisely, but that you begin to have an awareness of how your online engagement affects your relationship. Marriage is a unit—a specific behavior might not be a problem for you, but if it’s causing your partner anxiety or distress, then essentially it’s a problem for you also. Therefore, how will you navigate these areas out of love and concern for your partner? It’s not about rules but about creating an atmosphere of safety and trust.
Would you consider having a conversation with your spouse about your mutual boundaries and expectations? What steps can you begin to take today?