By Fran Sherman, LCSW
I had my first session with Sue and Joe about 1½ years ago. Married for 16 years, they had been to therapy before to help work through issues regarding different styles of parenting.
This time was different. Each had gotten a Facebook account, and began connecting with friends from 20 years ago.
Everyone they knew was on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media. It felt great to communicate with people who had been part of their lives when they were younger.
Sue and Joe were no exceptions. They were having a great time with old friends, talking and laughing about old times. But as they spent more time online they spent less time together. They no longer spoke to each other in the evenings because they were busy on their computers.
Before long, both felt neglected in their marriage. At the same time, they were communicating with old boyfriends and girlfriends whom they “friended” on Facebook. Initially, it all was very innocent, just catching up and seeing where their lives had gone — careers, marriage, children.
Yet as the months wore on, Sue and Joe’s emotional needs were being fulfilled by their Facebook relationships.
E-mails turned into phone calls. One evening, Joe saw a conversation on Sue’s computer that made him very angry: She was talking about meeting her old boyfriend. Joe became enraged, and it nearly ended their marriage.
It took many months of therapy, lots of anger and lots of tears for Sue and Joe to work things out. They had long before forgotten the basics about how to keep their relationship alive. They became so involved with re-establishing old relationships and friendships that they forgot about each other.
The more time that passed, the more they neglected each other; the more they neglected each other, the more they turned to the past.
During the course of therapy we established ground rules for Sue and Joe:
- Stop using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Re-establish trust, stressing disclosure and honesty.
- Spend quality time together. Include date nights and time every day just to talk.
- Remember why you love and like each other. And remind each other by saying three to five kind things every day.
- Talk about what you each feel is lacking in your relationship, and try to bring back the excitement between you that you got from connecting with old flames.
- When you feel ready, return to using social media. But make sure that you’re “friends” with each other, and that you use it for a limited time. Don’t spend your evenings in front of the computer, chatting with someone else.
Using social media is a great way to get in touch with old friends and establish new friendships. But be mindful of the pitfalls. It can be harmful when one of you spends more time on electronic devices than with your spouse.