How to Protect Your Marriage From Digital Infidelity
In their book, which I highly recommend, “The Digital Invasion: How Technology is Shaping You and Your Relationships,” Dr. Archibald Hart and Dr. Sylvia Hart Frejd address findings by social psychologists that label “FAD,” Facebook Addiction Disorder, as a condition in which someone spends so much time engaged in Facebook that it interferes with them having a healthy, balanced life. They cite a Psychology Today article that claims social media sites are more addictive than alcohol and tobacco and another by Michael W. Austin, whose study found that giving up social media is more difficult than giving up those substances. It also showed that while what people desired most in the course of a day were sex and sleep, the desire they found most difficult to resist was “staying on top of their online social networks.”
You can imagine- maybe not imagine, maybe you know from experience- the effect that this can have on your marriage. We laugh at the memes and greeting cards that make light of couples who are on their smartphones while on a dinner date or sitting next to one another in bed, but don’t we also feel a little pang of sickness on the inside when we see it, remembering the time (or times) we wanted to connect with our spouse, but couldn’t pull them away from the online article they were reading, or the funny video they were watching?
On the subject of Facebook affairs, Hart says “a recent study shows as many as one in five divorces now involve Facebook affairs. Social networking sites that connect past flames and allow users to make new friends online are to blame for an increasing number of marriages ending.” He goes on to cite stats about internet flirting, chatting, and instances of online meetups that eventually lead to phone calls, in-person meetings, and in-person sex. I have, as a counselor of primarily Christian marriages, seen this to be true. In many marriages I’ve worked with, some that ended in divorce, a spouse’s social media relationships, presence, or addiction played a role. The threat to our marriages is very real.
Even if you think your marriage isn’t susceptible to a sexual affair started through Facebook, what if one spouse has an affair “with” Facebook (or Twitter, Instagram, Candy Crush, Words with Friends, etc, etc, etc.)? This poses a threat to your relational intimacy because it takes up your time and attention- time and attention which could be given to your spouse. So, what can we do to prevent our marriages from falling prey to an affair via the internet?
1. Fill your spouse’s emotional bank account
Make sure that you stay connected with your partner before you worry about connecting on the world wide web. If our spouse’s love bank is full from the deposits we’ve made, they won’t be feeling so on edge when they come into the room and see you scrolling. They will be confident in your relationship and in your love for them, which is the foundation for trust.
2. Share your usernames and passwords with your spouse
This is simply about building trust- saying, “Trust with you is more important than phone privacy.” That doesn’t mean you should be logging on constantly checking on what your spouse is doing- that would be at the opposite extreme and also diminish trust because it essentially says, “I don’t believe you are capable of not getting into trouble without my oversight.” You are not your spouse’s parent and acting like you are won’t help your marriage.
3. Talk to your spouse about your social media friends.
Facebook is a big one because so many use it, and you can see photos, chat privately, etc., but I still know people who find one another through other online meetup groups, so include those, as well. If you wouldn’t want your spouse to become online friends with an ex, don’t become a friend of one of your own exes. If your spouse feels uncomfortable with an opposite-sex friend, delete them. Having that old friend on your social media account isn’t worth your marriage. If your spouse’s request for that delete upsets you, question your motive for having that particular friend. (see #9)
4. Shared accounts
I have many friends who do this. It may not work for everyone if you have different interests and connections, but consider whether this could help in your relationship.
5. Post often about your marriage and family, and NEVER in a negative way
I’m not saying be fake. I’m saying, honoring your marriage in that public forum sends a message that it’s off limits to others who might be curious. If you care about your marriage, don’t air your dirty laundry in public. Long after you forgive and move on from an issue, your friends and family can have a tainted view of your spouse, and doing so leaves your marriage open to gossip and speculation.
6. Consider not accepting requests from people you don’t know in real life
I know that some of you like to meet new people and network via social media. The danger is that if you don’t know their intentions, you make yourself vulnerable. A dear friend of mine fell prey to this during a time her marriage was hurting and became prey to a scammer who blackmailed her. Not a happy thing.
7. Set your status proudly to “Married.”
8. Take a look at your heart
What are your motives with your social media accounts?
With the friends you have? The time you do or don’t spend on it? Filter your social media choices through those motives. Is your marriage struggling right now? Are you or your spouse angry with one another? Consider a social media fast until things are on better footing.
9. Evaluate every friend on your friend list and identify why they are on your friend list.
Are they there “just in case?” If they are married and you notice one day they become single, will you react? Are you building a following for a reason, or are you just having some friends and family? We should be able to ask ourselves about a married ex with a family. Why do I want to keep up with them and see how their family is doing? Is that more important than providing a safe protected place for my spouse? Just because we have the freedom to do something doesn’t mean it’s best for us or our marriage. “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Cor. 6:12) Block. It’s that easy.
10. Allow your spouse to have access to your phone
If there’s no reason to hide it, hiding it will simply plant seeds of doubt and mistrust in their heart.
11. Share what you see on social media with one another
If you see something funny, inspiring, or interesting, share it and talk about it with each other. Social media can be social in real life. Same with tv- don’t just sit and watch tv mindlessly together; watch it and then talk about it, or even pause mid-show to talk about something that happened. “What do you think of that? Would you have made the same choice in that situation? Have you ever known anyone like that?” And so on. Be intentional in making your digital lives about togetherness, not a chance to tune one another out.
12. Intentionally, consistently invest in keeping your marriage strong
Read a marriage book, go to a conference, have date nights, and have real, in-person, face-to-face conversations with each other- no smartphones allowed.
13. Talk openly with your spouse about both their and your own issues with social media.
Hart suggests questions such as:
How much time each day is an acceptable amount of time to spend on Facebook?
Are there times during the week that should be phone free?
When accepting friend requests from others, who is OK to accept requests from and who is not?
Who are the types of people from your past that are ok to search for on Facebook and who are not?
How personal can updates and comments get with the sharing of details about yourself, your spouse, your family, work, and your life?
Are there any words, terms, or phrases that will not be typed and shared publicly? What topics are off-limits to write about in updates and comments?
What types of friends are ok to have private communications with using FB Messenger?
What should occur if a Facebook friend crosses the line?
Or ask, “Is social media too much of a temptation for me, and would I be better off without it? Those who pull the plug sometimes miss it at first, but most I’ve talked to are grateful they did. They have to be more intentional to connect in other ways with people, but in other ways the peripheral, less important connections fall away and don’t need to take away time or energy. They no longer have to worry about accepting a friend request from a co-worker because they feel obligated and don’t want to be rude, so work relationships stay at work. They no longer spend moments wanting to capture the perfect picture and pair it with the perfect caption- they simply enjoy them. No guilt if this isn’t you- I still have social media and use it with parameters. It’s just to ask the question for those who may struggle to be disciplined with it.
It’s no secret that marriages and families are under attack. We often focus on the influence of social media on our youth and on our brain wiring. Let’s not neglect occasionally checking on the influence on our marriages. It’s one more area we can show love and honor for one another.
What do you and your spouse do to safeguard your marriage from digital invaders?