Facebook and Marital Fidelity

Hawkgrrrl Mormon 42 Comments

A Salt Lake City news report in early 2009 shared some troubling statistics.  One in 5 divorces in Great Britain cited Facebook in the contributing factors that led to divorce.  In Utah, there has been a corresponding rise in marriage therapists dealing with internet cheating.  It has been reported by some members in various stakes that their SP or bishop has instructed married members never to friend a member of the opposite sex or to drop Facebook membership entirely collectively.  Are such extreme measures warranted? 

Clearly Facebook doesn’t cause infidelity any more than guns kill people, but is it bad for marriage or even worse, a catalyst for divorce to be avoided at all cost?

I checked the lds.org site, and there is no official warning to members to avoid Facebook at all costs, nor is there a specific suggestion that married people not “friend” those of the opposite sex (I’m fairly certain that the word “friend” is not used as a verb anywhere on lds.org, and if it were it would probably mean sending a copy of the children’s magazine to someone).  In fact, the church is active in social media (including Facebook and Twitter), using it as both a proselyting tool, and as a method to organize charitable endeavors.

From what I can see, Facebook has made it easier for exes to find one another, and so the one marital danger that exists is that someone will reconnect with an old flame (or an almost flame) which can lead to a rekindling of feelings (or emotional manipulation and bad choices – whatever).  And yes, prior to Facebook, it would be difficult for people to find these known individuals; adulterers would presumably have to resort to random hookups with strangers in bars and airports back in the good ol’ days rather than someone from their past.  Clearly, a determined adulterer wasn’t likely to be deterred by a little thing like lack of internet social networking.  But let’s remember, David & Bathsheba weren’t pen pals.  From Facebook to bedroom, there are some intermediate steps and choices being made.  There are some Facebook behaviors that might be ill-advised for those who want to stay faithfully married:

  • keeping secrets from your spouse
  • emotional affairs, building more intimacy with a friend of the opposite sex than you do with your spouse (these seem to lead to physical affairs)
  • posting revealing pictures of oneself
  • expressing neediness through status updates (making one vulnerable to emotional manipulators).  This is the Facebook equivalent to the secular admonishment not to “dial drunk.”

Yet for all its flaws, I can’t help but love Facebook for reconnecting me with old friends, helping me stay in touch with relatives in the most low effort way possible, allowing me to avoid all future high school reunions, providing me with dozens of unsolicited yet universally enthusiastic birthday greetings, and providing me with endless hours of marginal enjoyment through applications like Scramble.

When it comes to Facebook and marriage, what’s your opinion?

[poll id=”182″]

Have you friended or been friended by an ex?  Has a FB friend ever made you feel uncomfortable or gotten too personal?  Do you have concerns with your spouse’s Facebook use?  Discuss.

Comments

comments

Comments 42

  1. My wife and I have this type of discussion from time to time. We are both on facebook (she also uses another site called orkut) and we both have friends of both genders. It’s not a big deal. We are not secretive about anything, and we both make it a point to get to know who is on eachother’s facebook, not because we don’t trust one another, but it is simply one aspect of our lives that we want to share. Heck, I’m too lazy to post pictures, she’s not, so many of my friends are also her friends just to see our family pictures.

    She has had several male friends “unfriend/defriend” her at the insistence of their wives. She found that incredibly irritating and decided she wouldn’t ask me to do that, she just asked that if someone was trying to get too cozy with me that I would be wise and drop them.

    About the Stake President thing, it could be some old guy who knows nothing about facebook, or it maybe he said something like “infidelity can start small, like when you first accept a friend request on facebook” and then as that comment got passed around it got turned into “the brethren said facebook is evil” or “when you download facebook backwards, you hear the devel talking” or something. That’s just silly.

  2. Wouldn’t dream of setting someone else’s boundaries,but I am not comfortable with being friended by other male members as I am a very needy person,and actually when I think of those who have attempted to friend me,they are too.If we have something to say to each other ,we can say it,and we wouldn’t normally have a lot to say to each other.It just feels like a false intimacy,that could so easily become a dangerous intimacy.I just think e mail is that little more considered and deliberate.

    But hey,that’s just me and I set pretty high boundaries because I know what a fool I am.Also,I used to work as a therapist and if there’s one thing you learn after 15 years in the job it’s the importance of boundaries.Otherwise you’re usually out of a job.

    But I’m also not knocking social networking.I found my nephew through facebook.

  3. I suspect that there is little causal relationship between Facebook and infidelity. The 1-in-5 thing in Britain is much more likely evidentiary–that is, people who are having affairs are now posting about them (or messaging each other or writing on each other’s walls) on Facebook, which, as I understand it, is a crazy boon to divorce attorneys.

    Put another way: even without texting, I have no doubt Tiger would have been having an affair. But the texting let his (ex-)wife know, and gave evidence to her divorce attorney.

    Yes, in the odd case, Facebook probably lets old (or new) flames connect. But it really doesn’t strike me as a good platform for dating, even for unmarried people.

  4. One married friend of mine that I found on Facebook recently has a joint account with his wife (i.e., “John & Jane Doe”), which I think is an interesting way of addressing this concern.

  5. Like anything, FB can be used for good or bad. A friend on FB is usually someone you already know so that potential for a relationship is already there. When you find yourself confiding in others what you should be confiding in your spouse, that’s where affairs start. Doesn’t matter if it’s on FB, at the office, or a play group.

  6. Also, I know people who have joint FB accounts and emails. I guarantee you that husband and/or wife have work email accounts so this strikes me as a false sense of security. Also, it annoys your friends to have to specify your name in the subject line. It subtly promotes the notion that you are no longer an individual.

  7. I agree that FB can be used for good or bad. While I don’t use it personally, my ward has a FB group set up to help keep people up to date on activities and especially the new clubs that were recently formed. Everyone that I know of who uses it for that purpose has had a positive reaction.

  8. I’m fairly certain that the word “friend” is not used as a verb anywhere on lds.org…

    I guess they’ve learned from their late-70s attempt to turn “friendship” into a verb.

  9. I had a friend who one day I all of sudden could not access her profile. I didn’t realize what happened so I asked her if there was some mistake. She said she felt awkward to admit that she and her husband had both decided to not have opposite-sex friends other than family. I think it’s a little extreme, but it was right for them. Couples have to decide this stuff together. I always tell my wife when I have been talking to friends online anyway–we’re just open about stuff. I should also add that this friend lives (or lived, I don’t know) in Utah county – and nothing against Utah county (LOL!) but I heard through a friend a few years ago about a stake president banning facebook use after there had been 2 or 3 affairs that started online.

  10. I think if it works for the couple that way than by all means don’t have opposite friends. That being said, I do think boundaries get crossed. I know this is a church where we confidence share all the time. We don’t just do it at Fast and Testimony. We do in Sunday School, RS, EQ, combined meetings etc. All of us should be able to do it, What sucks is when people take that confidence share and uses it as ammunition on facebook and thinks its’ okay. I’ve had this happen several times and I am no longer friends with these people. Just because you know something about one of your friends doesn’t mean that all of your friends know and people need to stop being so frivolous with their friends personal information. Its’ a crappy way to treat a friend. A simple I’m sorry doesn’t cut it,because the other person doesn’t really fully understand what it is that they took from you.

  11. And just so they we are clear, by confidence share, I don’t mean keeping a secret, What I mean by confidence share is when you talk to your friends about a situation and you don’t want it to go any further. Something just between the two of you.

  12. Heh, I have friended my ex, her brothers, her husband and her dad just sent me a friend request today. My wife doesn’t care.

    Far more troubling are the female interns whom I work with at the office. I accept their friend requests to be polite, but then all their updates turn out to be Spring break and party photos. I wait until their internship term is over then defriend them. Even more than being married, I’m OLD and that’s just creepy as heck.

    1. You can “unfollow them” so that stuff doesnt come up in your news feed before they are gone and you delete them. Since you dont care to see the stuff. 😉

  13. I think discouraging friendships between married individuals and members of the opposite sex is stupid. (Unless a person, as an individual choice, makes that decision because s/he would be tempted. But it shouldn’t be a universal rule.) A rule like this would totally kill my career. I’m a single woman, and most attorneys are married men. If I couldn’t cultivate friendships and professional relationships with married men, I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere. Seriously, ladies, I don’t want your husbands. I just want to talk shop with someone who has the same interests and background as I do.

    The joint Facebook account thing annoys me, too. I know a few couples who share e-mail addresses and accounts, and it bugs me because it feels like they’ve surrendered their identities. The sharing of passwords is something I wouldn’t do, either. I think it implies a lack of trust. Sharing a Facebook password bothers me less than a spouse’s insistence on access to e-mail passwords, though. I wouldn’t be able to be in a relationship with someone that controlling. It strikes me as a huge red flag.

    I think Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with people, and that each couple needs to set their own boundaries based on their situation. Cheating will happen even without Facebook. I got cheated on before Facebook even existed, and so have many other people. If someone is going to cheat s/he will find a way, and if someone isn’t going to cheat, Facebook won’t cause cheating.

  14. I know several couples who do the joint account think. We actually started it that way, but I was tired of seeing dumb comments made by my wife’s friends, so I decided I needed a little bit of space. Most people I know who do the joint thing though is simply because one has a 90% interest in it, while the other has a 10% interest in it, and didn’t think it was worth it to make their own account, or they were just too lazy.

  15. Re: #10 – Another option (other than de-friending) is just to block specific people or their photos from showing up in your feed. I have done that quite a bit, as well as block certain people from being able to see my posts or etc. Maybe they’ll catch on to the latter, in which case I might say, “Oh, you were blocked? Sorry about that” lol.

  16. Keri,
    I agree that joint accounts are crazy (except, maybe, an account for purchases; it would be nice to have one account between us where all the spam went). But I know all of my wife’s email passwords, and she knows most, if not all, of mine. And that doesn’t implicate trust at all–it’s purely a matter of convenience. There are times when she’s away from a computer and needs information from her email (or vice versa). Frankly, it’s better that we know each others’ passwords than we say them over the phone in a public place.

    Also, we don’t consistently log out of our emails at home when we’re done, and because of a really annoying couple weeks on Safari, our passwords autofill on our home computers.

    But mostly, it is way more convenient if your spouse can get into your email. (Heck, I’ve called my sister a couple times to have her retrieve emails for me; I don’t know if she remembers my password, but she certainly could if she wanted.) There is no trust implication about it.

  17. Actually, I take that back: there’s a huge trust implication: I trust my wife (and my sister) with my passwords. But the fact that my wife has my passwords doesn’t imply that she doesn’t trust me, and that I know hers doesn’t imply that I don’t trust her.

  18. It sounds like infidelity on Facebook is more of a symptom than a cause. I’m happily married and my wife and I have separate Facebook accounts and we don’t share passwords because we couldn’t bother to learn each other’s passwords. We trust each other and we’re friends on Facebook (I mean, if you’re married and not friends with each other on Facebook that’s a problem) so it’s not like we could have gotten away with anything anyway, since it all shows up on our feeds.

    The presence of Facebook in our home does not undermine our marriage at all, anymore than having a telephone number of someone of the opposite sex in an address book next to my phone would encourage me to have extra-marital affairs with that person.

  19. I suspect that part of the problem is not only opportunity, but seeing yourself as newly attractive when you discover this whole new (or newly-reconnected) enthusiastic circle of friends on the Internet. The trick is to get that, accept it, and move past it onto “It’s cool that I’m attractive enough that I could cheat, but I love my spouse, and it’s not worth it to hurt him/her and/or destroy our relationship and family.”

  20. Isn’t it really about self-control? One can control themselves from doing anything they shouldn’t unless they really don’t want to.

    I haven’t yet heard “Facebook made me do it….” But I expect to.

  21. You can friend old flames, but don’t let them fertilize your Farmville crops.

    “I’m fairly certain that the word “friend” is not used as a verb anywhere on lds.org…”

    I hate it when nouns get verbed.

  22. One can control themselves from doing anything they shouldn’t unless they really don’t want to.

    Not according to Christianity.

  23. Keri – my thoughts are the same as Sam B’s. We have each other’s passwords because we trust each other. We aren’t controlling and we have our own identities, but when he was job-searching and I was helping him, of course I was getting into his email and checking stuff for him. When my yahoo account was hacked into last week and I couldn’t get it, the backup email was actually his so I could easily go and retrieve yahoo’s instructions from it. If the plane ticket info is on my yahoo he can find it.
    Every couple finds there own balance that they are comfortable with. In our marriage we don’t intentionally read each other’s emails, but chances are we see plenty of correspondence. It is like phone conversations. If I go off by myself to speak there is an expected sense of privacy, but if he accidentally overhears I am not ashamed of who I am or what I have said and I can live with him knowing the real me.

    As for friending opposite sex – I am simply selective. Why exactly would I want to know so much about those people’s daily lives and their minute by minute thoughts? And I don’t like the idea of my friend’s husbands or weird old guys in the ward hovering over my life, caring about what I am doing each day? I simply imagine having the conversations in real life and since I am far more likely to speak to my female friends and acquaintances than male friends and acquaintances, then my facebook life reflects that.

  24. matt (21),
    According to what strain of Christianity? All of them of which I’m aware grant that people are perfectly capable of avoiding sin. Some preach one form of predestination or another but, to my understanding, most Christian predestinationists believe that people are predestined to salvation or damnation, not predestined to do particular things.

    Or do you mean Christian religions believe that we are all sinners? Because if that’s what you’re saying, you’re right, but its still not really mechanized: although I may sin, I can avoid any sin I want to avoid.

    Mostly, though, saying, “Not according to Christianity” is way too broad to have any meaning, because I can’t think of a single principle on which all Christians would agree.

  25. I think couples need to make their own relationship rules when it comes to FB and relationships with the opposite sex. I think it is extreme when a bishop or stake president tells their congregation that they not be “friends” with the opposite sex. Like Jeff said, it really is about self control and not putting yourself in situations that foster emotional intimacy with others. It seems like a no-brainer to me, but what do I know, I have “friends” of the opposite sex and I “like” it that way…..

  26. I’m not a fan of building hedges around fences around ditches around cliffs. Point out the broader dangers, sure, but it’s not possible to eliminate all sources of temptation. Instead, people need to develop character and be faithful and not selfish.

  27. I don’t know of the word ‘friend’ being used as a verb now – never heard it in that respect. But I do know that ‘befriend’ is a verb that maens to make a friend. When it comes to Facebook and my friends talking about it (I am not on it myself) they always talk about ‘making someone their friend’, not ‘friending’ them.

    I agree with most comments here that Facebook affairs are more the symptom than the actual crime. One of my friends wife had an internet affair from meeting someone in a chatroom before Facebook started out. It’s just the person’s choice in the matter. I do know the wife in this situation felt her husband was not spending enough time with her, so when he was away at work (he mainly worked nights in the mines) she was on the computer, met someone, and took it further. Someone showed interest in her at a time she felt lonely. I can understand that, but I disagree with her further decisions. The same thing happens with Facebook.

    The internet makes it easier to ‘meet’ other people without going outside the home. In most cases the wife has less opportunity than the husband to go out and meet people, unless both spouses are working and/or they have no dependent children. Spending more time on the internet chatting with a friend than with a spouse becomes easier to do while the other is at work. This forms close bonds and an emotional intmacy which can lead on to other things. So the big thing is to spend more time talking with your spouse than you do on facebook (or a chatroom) to all your friends, so the emotional bond remains where it should be. This goes for men as well if they are like me and tend to stay up late at night because they are not tired (I need 4 hours a night), but their wife is in bed asleep.

    The church’s guidelines about the internet are to have the computer in a public area, not in a bedroom or study, so that anyone can walk past whenever and see what the user is doing; use a netnanny; and not to have the computer on late at night when everyone else is in bed. This stops the potential for someone to look at the wrong things.

    The main points are choice and accountability and mostly discipline.

  28. I’m relatively new ot FB and have enjoyed it. (When I finally signed up, my son said “Welcome to the 21st century.”) I haven’t perceived any of the problems with infidelity some are concerned about.

    My wife doesn’t care about FB and isn’t on it. She knows my password, but only because I use the same password for everything I can. She’s free to log on to my account, but she never would, as she has zero interest and doesn’t care about it.

    I have lots of female FB friends, and it would never occur to me to somehow try to start an affair with one of them. I’m not even sure how that would work. The level of discourse is so superficial, I can’t see getting all steamy with someone in that venue. Others may have different sensibilities about it, but I view it as harmless.

  29. This is the Facebook equivalent to the secular admonishment not to “dial drunk.”

    This one made me chortle. We have a member of our family who regularly indicates their level of intoxicatedness with what they post (or attempt to post) on their facebook wall. On Sunday afternoon, when the hangover has finally wained, he gets back on FB and frantically deletes everything.

  30. I think my husband is FB friends with just about all of his exes. He’s also friends with all kinds of women from school and work who I have never met, and I don’t know who they all are, and I don’t care. I don’t have any reason to believe he’s messing around or inclined to mess around with any of them, and in the event that he is, well, I have bigger problems than Facebook.

    Actually, the biggest trust issue we have with FB is when one of us accidentally stays logged in on the shared computer and the other one writes a ridiculous status update in our name.

  31. I feel even better now about leaving my Facebook account high and dry. One might say that Facebook has added an additional degree of competitiveness to the market of relationships and stresses the boundries of the way we have relationships. It’s easy, if true, to say that Facebook (and Internet in general) gives those who are together out of habit opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had. But I disagree with those saying they are freinds with former girlfriends, female coworkers, and it’s no big deal because our relationship is so strong. One could equally proclaim they keraoke at the bar with all their buddies from work but their testimony is so strong, no temptation to drink etc.

  32. I think FB is dangerous my husband and I have both gotten caught up in sneaky ways. I had an old high school friend write me gushing emails about how I was the prettiest girl in school etc. My first impulse was to flirt back to get more attention and compliments but I stopped myself and told my husband about the message right away.

    My husband isn’t even on FB but he has a stalker ex who worked FB for over a year to get one of his friends to give her my hubby’s personal info. Once the friend did so she emailed my husband naked photos of herself and sent him explicit text messages. He deleted the photos but flirted back for literally a minute via text (he liked the attention – who doesn’t?) before cutting off all contact. He’s ignored her for over a month now but she still texts him (and it’s his work phone so he can’t change the number)

    My FB message made my hubby feel insecure and his returning his ex’s text really hurt my feelings. I think our instant contact, instant gratification makes every passing thought, every bad day an opportunity to cheat emotionally or hurt someone because it’s all at our fingertips now.

    I expect divorce rates to skyrocket

  33. Interesting, Eris – facebook definitely opens things up for stalkers, yikes!

    “it’s all at our fingertips now”
    Reminds me of a Brigham Young quote criticizing zippers on pants (as opposed to buttons) because they would make adultery more likely. 🙂 I should find the source for that one…

  34. A ridiculous matter- of course I have female friends on FB! If your spouse is a member of FB, he/she can see your posts, who you add as friends and have a good idea of what is going on. My wife is FB friends with a couple exes and frankly, I could care less. No biggie. It’s called trust and personal responsibility. If my Stake President told me to cut out my female friends on FB, I’d tell him that would be the last time I’d walk into Church with him presiding.

  35. Re: #35-zippers/buttons

    Found this on an old Times and Seasons discussion:

    “Heber C. Kimball on December 27, 1857:

    I am opposed to your nasty fashions and everything you wear for the sake of fashion. Did you ever see me with hermaphrodite pantaloons on? [Voice: “Fornication pantaloons.”] Our boys are weakening their backs and their kidneys by girting themselves up as they do; they are destroying the strength of their loins and taking a course to injure their posterity.

    Now, just look at me. I have no hips projecting out; they are straight down with my sides. I am serious myself, although I can smile and laugh when I am serious; but these ridiculous fashions I despise, and God knows I despise anything that will tend to destroy the lives of my sisters. What is your existence worth to you? It is worth everything to your posterity; and you ought to consider their interest as well as your own.

    There is not a woman in this congregation but would be as straight as I am, if she did not destroy her shape.Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p.191″

    In their discussion, it was stated that while BY has this attributed to him in 1830, no source is cited and 1830 is too early for BY anyway.

    Glad you mentioned it, AdamF. Good one.

  36. There always a gut reaction, especially among the “tight-arses” and the “old boys” in the Church, to label any new trend or technology as Satan’s latest threat to us all. FB is no different…like anything else, it can be used for good or evil, and if employed, should be exercised with discretion. It all depends on intent and execution…like previously pointed out, King David didn’t need the InterNet to hook up with Bathsheeba!
    I remember about thirteen years ago, when single and dating, doing the AOL thing because they had IM. My then bishop, when he asked about my Internet habits (obviously querying if I was viewing porn), just about blew a gasket when I described how I’d IM single ladies on AOL…it freaked him out that I could “chat” with several at a time! He actually warned me to cancel AOL as he felt it was a tool of the devil!
    Keep in mind that my own Federal Agency uses social networking sites for offical purposes…they must see a value.

  37. Unless a Stake President had literally HALF his stake engaging in physical affairs with the OTHER HALF of his stake, and ALL of them credited Facebook with the affair, then the SP is FAR EXCEEDING the scope of his ecclesiastical authority, has completely lost positive influence/’control’ over his flock, and should be relieved of his command or released, for lack of a better word, either for incompetence or blatant ecclesiastical abuse.

    How can members have confidence in such a leader if he micromanages his flock to that extent? HE IS NOT GOD; he is simply someone who refuses to respect the inherent God-given right of agency, nor in teaching agency, does he remind the faithful that agency is a two-sided coin with the flip-side being the consequences that accompany unwise choices.

    It is apparent that someone such as this that he trusts absolutely nobody. If he says it, it is of God. if anyone dares to have a different, yet equally scripturally valid opinion, then such a leader brands them as a ‘spiritual heretic’, denies them the chance to serve and does all he can within the rules to discredit them within the eyes of the sheople within the ward or stake, It is leaders like this and actions like theirs that personify the verse ‘amen to the priesthood or authority of that man.’ Would it kill these guys to re-read the 121st section of the Doctrine & Covenants?

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