12 January 2012

The Internet & Your Marriage

Do you guys remember the days before the internet?  Here's a 1960s Olivetti Typewriter Advertisement - photo by Christian Montone
Did you see that article in Forbes that said 1 in 3 divorces are due to FACEBOOK FLIRTING?!?!?!  (Thank you, Jordan Ferney, for passing along!)

SICK!  I have been hearing more and more that it was indeed a huge problem and know of several affairs/divorces that started because of it.  But 1 in 3 divorces???  This is just outrageous!!!  This really does fire me up & makes me want to do something about it!

I will have a few posts dedicated to the internet & marriage because Facebook & who knows what else has been mucking up our lives & families, yet I don't really hear enough chatter regarding what we can do about it. 

For starters, I am so, so excited to open with this Facebook story, told to me in person by my dear friend in Brooklyn, Shiloh Donkin.  I was dying when she told me.  It displays the perfect example of what an honorable/heroic/faithful husband should do in the face of a solicited affair.  I am so happy that my friend agreed to write out the story for you all.   And I hope this can inspire us all to be honorable to our husbands, wives, children & to ourselves.

 
The First Time I Met Andy...

The first time I met Andy, I thought nothing of it. The second time I met Andy, I thought he was cute and funny. The third time I met Andy, I never thought of anything else but him! It's been that way ever since. I remember when we had been dating about 4 months, right before our summer break in college (in which I would be going home to Texas and Andy would be going home to Portland), Andy's older brother Sam pulled me aside and in private told me I didn't have to worry about being away from Andy for 3 months. Andy is a one woman kind of guy. Always has been, always will be. He won't even look at another woman while he was with me. I took great comfort in that, I believed it, and I held to it.

When we were married, I felt like the luckiest woman in the world. I had just married the funniest, best the looking bearded mountain man accountant ever. It wouldn't be until 5 years later that I would realize how lucky I really was at the time.

Occasionally during Andy's busy seasons (when he works 80 hour weeks), I fly down to Texas to visit my parent for a couple weeks. During one such occasion, right after our 5 year anniversary, Andy started to receive Facebook messages from an old girlfriend in high school. They started out innocent enough. She was mostly just inquiring about how he was doing, how he liked NYC, how his family was doing, etc. He thought nothing of it, just catching up with an old friend. Then the messages began to get weird. They quickly went from friendly inquiries to confessions of love and pleadings to leave his life, wife, and son to be with her.

This was completely out of the blue and Andy didn't know what to do. And the good man that he is, he turned to me. He was open and straight forward. He told me about the messages he had received and told me to log onto his Facebook account so I could read them (our passwords to each other's accounts are an open book, we have no secrets between us). He said he wasn't sure whether to bother me with it or not since there was no way he returned her feelings. But he didn't want to hide anything from me. He kindly told this woman that they were not the same people they were in high school and that he was happily married and loved me and his son and that was the most important thing to him in the whole world. Nothing, NOTHING, would change that or make him act contrary to those promises and covenants he had made to us and God. He wished her the best in her life but said what she was doing was very inappropriate and it needed to stop immediately. Sadly, she continued to pursue him via Facebook and Andy ended up blocking messages from her and "de-friending" her.

It seems easy, maybe even innocent to carry on a "virtual affair". No one knows about it, there is nothing physical taking place. But all actions are a result of a single thought. Thoughts eventually turn into action of one kind or another. Andy knew this. He could have easily carried on a virtual affair with this woman if that was something he wanted or was tempted by and I possibly would have never known. But a mental departure from our marriage is just as damaging as a physical departure, and if a mental departure goes unchecked, it almost always leads to a physical departure. Sadly, Andy and I know at least two couples personally that have lost their spouse because of a Facebook (or other internet venue) affair.

The whole experience only brought Andy and I closer together as a married couple. I now not only believed but KNEW that Andy was utterly and completely faithful to me and that he ever would be. He had made a decision early on in life what his values were, what was most important to him and never let anything change the course he had chosen.

The experience also gave Andy and I an opportunity to think differently about people who might be considered an "enemy". Instead of anger at this woman, we felt sorrow. What state of life, what state of unhappiness must she find herself in to think that the only way she can be happy is by causing another to leave his family. We were sad for her, for her situation, for whatever trials she was facing, for the decisions she was making. I didn't want to tell her off; I didn't want to send a strongly worded message telling her to "stay away from my man". If anything, I wanted her to get help, to talk to someone, to get help working through whatever depression she had found herself in. It was a humbling experience for me to feel compassion for one who is trying to steal my husband. It was also exalting to realize that the good man I married was completely faithful, trustworthy, devoted, and quite simply pure gold. I only hope that I can show him through my actions that my thoughts never leave him, just as his thoughts have never strayed from me.

Dear readers - have you or your spouse faced an online encounter that was inappropriate?  Anything you can pass along regarding what you learned, or what you should have done, or what you did do successfully?  Obviously, anonymous comments welcome! 


P.S.  If you want to share your story on the blog about how to face the challenges that the internet brings into your marriage, please email me at mara@ablogaboutlove dot com.   (Yes, I'm talking to you, Mac ;)

33 comments:

  1. Mara,

    Again, thank you for posting something that it doesn't seem anyone else is posting right now! I often feel that our culture is in a honeymoon phase with the internet and social media, not really taking seriously the effects on our hearts and relationships.

    When I found my own lust over other people's lives on facebook to be too much, and got off of it and never looked back!

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  2. I guess I am somewhat one of the 1 in 3.
    My husband met someone and the internet made it so easy and innocent (at first) to get to know each other and become a large part of each others lives in areally short time period (2 month) - and when I found out about it he felt his relationship/love was with her not with me...

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  3. AnonymousJan 12, 2012 06:16 AM
    PS: I blame him for having an affair and being completly unwilling to work on our marriage, not the internet, it merely offered some of the means.

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  4. Love that you posted this story. Always interesting reads on here.

    And yet, it goes both ways. I have a good friend who had an affair with a married man this summer. I don't think she is a sad person with depression, quite the opposite, but I do think the man she slept with certainly had his issues.

    I guess I just get a little sensitive when so much attention and pity is placed on the "other woman." I've always believed it takes two to tango.

    I think facebook is awful. The sole reason I still have an account is to keep in touch with college girlfriends. That is it. I just cannot stand the drama and craziness. I once dated a gentleman who had been married previously and when his ex-wife found out that I existed she facebook stalked me and e-mailed me etc... It was terrible.

    What I love is when married couples decide to have a joint facebook account like "John n' Jane Doe" instead of "John Doe" is married to "Jane Doe." That way messages like in the blog post above wouldn't happen.

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  5. Wow, I had no idea about that stat! The internet is continually proving it's awesomeness and terribleness all at the same time. Thanks, Shiloh, for sharing!

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  6. 33%? Now, thats crazy. Add twitter to that stats.

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  7. Your friend has a lovely family. I love where she writes, "All actions are a result of a single thought." She is really on to something. It is beautiful to me that she and her spouse are direct and honest with each other.

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  8. I read that story about a faithful man in the face of advances from another woman. And I feel grateful that there are good men that are loyal and Christ-like. Men who can be trusted. What a blessing that is in a marriage to be able to trust each other-with facebook, the internet, or any other thing. My husband became involved with a woman on facebook. This woman even came to our home because my husband said she was lonely. I didn't realize that they were having an emotional affair. Three years later I found out that my husband was a sex addict-and had been for over 20 years of his life and our marriage. He used the internet to view pornography many hours a day. And I did not know. I trusted him and was naive concerning the internet, pornography, and facebook. How I wish I could trust my husband...that has been lost. But I do know for sure that finding out about my husbands infidelity and sex addiction that happened largely on the internet and facebook-has been a catalyst for a deepening relationship with my Savior Jesus Christ. When I lost my husband-the man I trusted- to addiction I knew that I had to turn to God. It's been a process. But I am learning that I can turn to Him when there is no one else and if I am willing to be helped He will help me. I would not have been where I am today-with a deeper relationship with God and his Son if it had not been for my husband affair and porography use on the interent. For those women who's husbands have not come to them when something happens on the internet...not all is lost. Put your trust in a God who can heal you and knows you. As much as the internet has to offer-it is only God who can offer what I need when I need it...but only if I turn to him in thought, word and deed. There is hope.

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  9. I find that stat fascinating, but I'm not surprised. And, I'm afraid that some of the commenters may be focusing on the wrong thing... Though I find the internet/Facebook may provide an outlet or an avenue to cheat, the catalyst behind cheating isn't the mechanism used to cheat. The catalyst is the relationship. Your friend's story is inspiring, but Andy wasn't going to cheat because he had an opportunity on Facebook. Andy wasn't going to cheat because he had a healthy marriage. Physical cheating, emotional cheating, cheating in general, are filling a void in a relationship. Damning social media for breaking up marriages isn't the solution. Creating healthier relationships alleviates the problem.

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  10. Oh I totally believe this! I had a conversation with my husband when his ex-girlfriend became his friend and began to message him. I remember saying-- it's just not appropriate. No matter how long it's been...you will always have some semblance or memories with the person because they were in fact, a romantic part of your life and that's not something you can forget. My friend has a no-makeout rule. If she ever kissed a guy...EVER..she does not friend him. Even if it was in the 3rd grade;) It doesn't matter the initial innocence of it. I have to look at it like...would my husband be happy if I went out to lunch with my ex to "catch-up"? I just don't think he or I would feel comfortable with it and that's what facebook often is--a conversation.

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  11. Diandra - Thx for writing in - I love what you wrote and I agree that it's all about creating healthier relationships and being honorable & faithful. A lack of integrity is the real problem and we can't blame social media. But since it is such a widespread mechanism, one that makes cheating available at all times, I think it's worth talking about. Because it provides so many gray areas - it seems it can catch even some of the best people off guard. So I just hope to discuss a bit about what it means to have integrity on line...

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  12. Though it was not through the internet, my best friend invited my husband to meet up with her under false pretenses to "discuss" something or other. She then came on to him and told him about her feelings for him. She was the mother of two children. At the time, I was pregnant with my third child. Really??? This was my best friend. Someone I confided in, someone who I trusted to watch my children. She betrayed that friendship. My husband is one of the good ones. He came right home and told me. It took some time, but I have completely forgiven her. She was able to realize the mistake she had made. Has mended her broken marriage and (from a distance), seems to be happy. I am so grateful to have married a wonderful, honest man who loves me unconditionally. I am very thankful that he was not tempted in any way. I can't not imagine how much more difficult the internet makes things these days.

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  13. Mara, I find this to be a fascinating conversation. And yes, I agree with your response to Diandra. I do believe that the internet and all it's social outlets can, in fact, "catch even some of the best people off guard." My husband (who is a psychologist) can attest that an affair, whether emotional or physical, does not in every case suggest that there is a gaping hole in one's relationship with their spouse or partner. Christ didn't say, (for instance) if you aren't tempted by alcohol, go ahead and surround yourself with it and test your will against it. He said avoid even the appearance of evil. I'd say the same applies to the internet/facebook/twitter/etc. In other words, better to be safe than sorry. So yes, create healthier relationships! But also be aware of the dangers lurking around you and steer clear!

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    1. This is very wise. I love what you wrote Lisset.

      I think at the end of the day many men (and women) just can't resist outrageous temptation if it's bombarding them over and over and over again.

      I also think this really connects to having open dialogue and communication in a marriage.

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  14. I think a couple General Conference's ago one of the General Authorities talked about this same thing.
    I think one way to keep your self safe on Facebook is just to keep certain people as friends. I only have mostly family and close friends or school friends from high school. Facebook for me is just a way to keep in contact with family that live states away.
    Really its all in the purposes that your using it for.
    Plus my husband and I know each others passwords.

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  15. I had the same thing happen to me, though I was not as strong as Andy was. I fell into the trap, and it nearly destroyed me. Luckily, I have an amazing husband who is willing to stay by my side and help me heal from the mess I created for myself, our marriage, and our family. I have learned more about him and the deep love he has for me, even in my lowest of lows. It has brought us closer together in the end, though the pain is still unbearable at times. I'm thankful for the strength I've received from Christ as I've trudged my way through this trial.

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  16. I love the idea of having a joint account. That way you can enjoy the benefits of social media (such as staying in touch) but keep it open between each other so that you both are aware. Even though I completely trust my husband, it takes the temptation away for those who might message inappropriately him knowing that I can easily see it too. And I agree with Diandra as well, working on a more healthful and fulfilling relationship with your spouse what we should focus on. But doesn't mean we can't try to safeguard ourselves. For me that's part of creating a healthy relationship. To say that we care about each other enough to keep the temptations down to a minimum.

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  17. I will email you as we just went through something similar in our lives. Love this.

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  18. I once remember hearing about a man who cheated and he said he knew he had started to cross the line from "friend" to "something more" when he stopped telling his wife about his interactions with the other woman. That has always stuck with me, I think the act of secrecy plays a big part in these things. Even though this mans affair didn't start with the internet, it started with withholding information which is all too easy with facebook/the internet. It's also easy to pass off a little conversation as no big deal, but if you're purposely keeping it from your spouse then there's a reason.

    So my husband and I have a rule--if we message or chat with someone of the opposite sex, for ANY reason, we be sure to mention it to the other person. Obviously even this takes trust--because it would be easy just not to tell, but the point is that if we tell each other when conversations truly are innocent, they don't really have a chance of progressing beyond that.

    Another great topic guys.

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  19. I love Facebook because I can keep up with all my friends from High School in Australia who I would probably never otherwise, have re-connected with. Recently one of the guys we went to school with sent out friend requests. I noticed that my best friend from those days had denied it and sent him a nice message saying that she had decided only to be facebook friends with other women. I found that kind of a smart move.

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  20. Another useful stat Diandra, Mara...

    “Facebook users have higher levels of total narcissism, extraversion, exhibitionism and leadership than Facebook non-users. Secondly, individuals with higher scores on exhibitionism also have higher preferences for photos and status updates than for the site’s other features.

    “These findings substantiate the proposition that Facebook is particularly appealing for narcissistic and exhibitionistic people. In fact, it could be argued that Facebook specifically gratifies the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self-promoting and superficial behavior.”

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  21. My sister is a therapist and studied about this very topic.
    She says one of the most important things to do if a situation arises on facebook is to be TOTALLY TRANSPARENT with your spouse / significant other. If what you are writing can not be written with your spouse reading over your shoulder then you shouldn't be writing it.

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  22. I think you would like this letter about love written by John Steinbeck to his son Thom.

    http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/01/nothing-good-gets-away.html

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  23. this literally makes me sick to my stomach. everything about it.

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  24. I feel like I'm on the opposite side of the spectrum from most posters. I would never have a joint account, and my husband and I don't share passwords. Not because I wouldn't let him into my accounts if he asked--it's just that he never would. He has no reason to. And I guarantee that he would be bored within seconds of reading any of my Facebook or email messages.

    I'm Facebook friends with people I've dated and stayed friends with, as is he. When you get married a bit later like us, you've literally dated dozens and dozens of people. We all moved on, stayed friends, got married, and are friendly with their respective spouses.

    I know a lot of comments are coming from people who had issues with trust and/or cheating. This hasn't been my experience, so my perspective is different. But to assume that every friend of the opposite sex, every Facebook friend, every person you've ever dated, every singular (vs joint) social media account is somehow an opportunity for lurking danger, I think there are bigger problems at play. Lack of trust, suspicion, etc can erode a marriage just as quickly as a spouse acting inappropriately. I worked in a predominantly male-dominated field, and I can't imagine tracking and relaying every conversation, meeting, lunch, etc. to my husband in the name of transparency.

    If someone overtly comes on to you or our spouse, you clearly need to disengage them. But trust your spouse and keep things open, though not necessarily transparent. I'm glad that your friend's husband was a stand up guy!

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  25. Anonymous--I'm with you on this one. I'm still friends with most of the people I dated, and I'm friends with many of them on Facebook. I think the key here is to be like the husband in the post. It's about knowing your boundaries and not getting into situations that would lead to trouble. My husband and I know each other's passwords only because we've logged in for each other here and there, but I don't think either of us feels the need to monitor each others' conversations. He works in retail with a bunch of cute girls, but I don't need to know what they talked about during their work day. I understand trust issues as much as the next person, but I think cheating is a much bigger issue than having to report every conversation with the opposite sex. I love the example in this post--know when it's inappropriate and do something about it (de-friending the person and telling your spouse about it). I think that's the message here.

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    1. Granted, like the Anonymous above that, this post still makes me sick to my stomach. If only more people were like the husband and stopped things as soon as they became inappropriate.

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  26. It is nice to hear various opinions and commentary on this subject when deciding how to address it in our own lives. There is a lot of diversity in human personality, as well as in relationship dynamics. What may work for one person won't necessarily work for someone else. It's my opinion that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to approach these challenges, as long as both parties in the relationship are happy with the dynamic that they choose.

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    1. Anon - I think this is a very good point! THANK YOU for chiming in.

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  27. I just found your blog today and am so glad that I did. I have somewhat recently looked for discussions about the internet/facebook in the dating world and was dumbfounded that no one has been talking about it. A few months back, right before we were thinking of getting engaged, my boyfriend was contacted by an ex on FB who stated she was getting a divorce. We had been happily talking about marriage (after 5 years), and then all the sudden he got "weird" on me. I couldn't figure out why, until one night he broke down and told me that since finding out this piece of information he couldn't stop thinking about her, and thought that he might have feelings for her. He said he was telling me because he felt guilty and he didn't know what to do, but also that he still loved me very much. As far as I know, their contact was not "flirtatious" but more of two old friends (they dated in high school) sharing bad news. Our relationship was very rocky after this, and he started seeing a therapist to sort out his feelings, which he realized was just transient nostalgia and that he was actually very happy in our relationship. Eventually, he asked me to come as well and we have really been working on things with a positive result, though I still have my bad days and am working on my own ability to forgive and move on (and your post about working on a hard marriage has really helped!).

    My point is, even if someone is not overtly coming on to you, just seeing things about past loves on FB (so-and-so is "engaged," or so-and-so is now "single") have an effect on you, and can cause wheels to start turning in your head. FB is so visual, it seems more real than, for example, hearing from and old friend that your ex got a divorce. It has so much more potential for damage. And you only see the good parts of people on FB, not their bed head....and you can't smell their morning breath either :-) It really creates a false "grass is greener" effect.

    Anyway...I wish there was more talk about this in other outlets. Since this event we have both stopped checking our FB regularly and deleted all of our exes. I wanted to delete it completely, but it has become so mainstream now that I use it to keep up on local events like farmers markets, lectures, shows, etc. and don't want to miss out. Sooo, yeah. Thank you for posting this. Very much needed some solidarity.
    -R

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  28. Facebook is great if you are not looking for someone of the oppisite sex.PERIOD

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