Facebook and Relationships: Blessing or Curse?
Within recent memory, my then wife got mad at me for something I said. What was I thinking? In truth, I wasn’t thinking. However, what was an infraction in my eyes was a felony in hers. I talked to her, clarified my intention, and apologized profusely. I was still in the doghouse, but slowly I felt I was being forgiven. After a while, I thought the incident was behind us, but that was a premature assessment. In fact, it was wishful thinking.
One day, I found out I was no longer my wife’s friend on Facebook. Ladies and gentlemen, I had been quietly and unceremoniously unfriended by none other than my wife.
I was livid and felt jilted, rejected. How could she do something egregious like that? I teetered between being angry and being disappointed.
No, this was not an infraction on her part, I rationalized, but a declaration of war. Apparently, I found out, she had made her decision before we buried the hatchet. She was, of course, understandably irate when she decided to boot me from her friends list.
I talked to her about the matter, but she smiled and went about her business. One day, I jokingly brought up the issue with her and her female friends and told a story about an unidentified husband who was once unfriended by his own wife. Her friends were not amused: Some had to suppress a chuckle, others simply winced at me. Much to my chagrin, all her friends blamed the man. “What did he do,” they all asked, “for him to be unfriended?” To them, this poor husband must have done something “bad” and “reprehensible.”
True to her nature, my wife showed magnanimity and offered to “befriend” me again. By then, I had come to the conclusion that it was not a bad idea for us not to be friends on Facebook. Although I only had less than 2 percent of female friends on Facebook, my wife had a penchant for gently prodding and quizzing me about them. Not being the jealous type, she was merely curious about these women.
“I love my wife to death,” proclaimed a New York therapist, Ian Kanter, “but I do not need to be her Facebook friend.”
Kanter thought it was better for his marriage not to be friends with his wife on social media. “I didn’t want all the extra information,” he told Public Radio International. “If anything, I wanted less information—I wanted more mystery and more unpredictability.” Any element of mystery is good for the relationship.
In this day and age of digital explosion, married couples have little time for each other. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey found that 25 percent of those polled who are in a long-term relationship complained that their loved ones were “distracted by their mobile phone while they were together.” About 8 percent consistently quarreled over time spent on the Internet.
“Put your devices down,” roared Kanter.
Facebook, as a medium, can cause rifts in a relationship. Too much use, according to studies, can have adverse effects on a relationship. A recent study published in the Journal of Cyperpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking found a correlation between relationship stability and Facebook usage. Those who check this medium more than once an hour “experience Facebook-related conflict with their romantic partners.” The problem, according to the study, is that Facebook use might lead to misunderstanding and jealousy often created by connections with ex-lovers and possible emotional and physical cheating.
A new legal phrase “Facebook divorce” refers to the increasing marital dissolutions that have happened due to information uncovered through the medium. These include, but are not limited to, flirty messages with old flames and exchanging photos which in turn become evidence in court. One British study found that 66 percent of divorce lawyers had cited Facebook “as the primary source of evidence in a divorce case.”
One American clergy, Reverend Cedric Miller, in New Jersey, was so mad at Facebook that he asked members of his congregation to close their accounts because the social network is “a portal of infidelity.” The cleric was concerned because 20 couples in his congregation had been led astray by the use of Facebook. The medium, alleged the cleric, facilitated spouses to re-connect with ex-lovers, which in turn led to bitterness and undue strain in their marriage.
“Readily available communication on Facebook,” says John Grohol, the CEO and founder of Psych Central, “leads people to pursue temptation or engage in risky behavior.” He added, in an interview with The Huffington Post, “Facebook makes it easy to engage in less inhabited communication—which can lead to taking risks we wouldn’t ordinarily take in our everyday life.”
Word of caution
A few guidelines will help you protect yourself when using Facebook:
1. Be careful of what you post for your friends. Not every friend on Facebook, it is said, is a true friend. The word ‘friend” has unfortunately lost its meaning in today’s social media. Your ‘friends’ may post damaging information about you and there is little you can do about it.
2. In case you have forgotten, whatever you post—and its contents— belongs to Facebook.
3. Your postings can be used against you in a court of law. I have seen a California prosecutor present, as evidence, 45,000 pages of Facebook postings allegedly used by gang members.
4. Employers have been mining Facebook for information to weed out job applicants or keep tabs on their employees. One woman called in sick one day and took her children to the zoo. Her husband inadvertently posted pictures of the family standing in front of the elephant house to her Facebook account. To say the woman was miffed is an understatement.
5. Facebook can be helpful in connecting with family and friends. It is also a source of valuable information. It is, however, how you use it that can adversely affect your relationship. You do not want to keep checking your Facebook account more than you check on your life partner. As one wise person once said, “Couples that fail to make one another the centerpiece of their life are straddling the red zone.”
Hassan M. Abukar is a Sahan Journal contributor and the author of Mogadishu Memoir. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.