Is Facebook ruining my marriage?

Dear Toni-

My husband "Dan" and I are both active Facebook users with many friends who see our frequent postings filled with musings and personal and professional updates. We have many friends in common, know each others' passwords and have complete access to each others' information- even though I have never felt compelled to go looking, until now.

Seemingly out of the blue, an old love of Dan's sent him a friend request. He said he thought nothing of it and accepted. Almost immediately, "Susan" began sending frequent messages to Dan detailing her life since they ended things 10 years ago, telling him how much she has missed him, calling him the "one who got away," and asking him very personal questions about our relationship and the state of our marriage. Over the years she has been married and divorced once and had a couple of long term relationships which apparently did not end well, and is now feeling nostalgic for the time she and Dan were together--which by the way, did not end too well either.

Dan was very open in talking about Susan when she first contacted him--however, he has been a lot more secretive lately and when I ask about her, he is dismissive and changes the subject. His attitude led to my checking his page, which he is not happy about and is now threatening to change his password.

I can't believe this has spun so quickly out of control, but I don't know how to turn it around. I did ask him to unfriend her, but he refused, saying that he has nothing to hide and won't let me dictate who his friends are. We have always been the couple with the great relationship, filled with trust and mutual respect. I have never felt a reason not to trust him, and even now, it's her I don't trust and her potential power over him. He was devastated when she broke up with him. I'd appreciate any insights, thoughts, strategies or reality testing you can offer. --Is This Just Me?

Dear Dear Is This Just Me,

I'd love to be able to offer you a simple answer and tell you to ignore your instincts and this woman and the problem would then go away--but you asked for my honest take, so here goes. Before Susan came on the scene, you and Dan had an open, trusting and easy rapport and relationship. You shared your friends and passwords without defensiveness and have "always been the couple with the great relationship." You never felt the need to question his behavior or motivations, and had never felt the need to check his online activity and spy on his communication with an online friend. Suddenly all that has changed, and when you try to openly address your concerns, you are met with attempts to redirect the conversation and the threat that if you persist you will be denied all access. All over a woman who broke his heart 10 years ago.

There are songs, poems and stories about searching for that long ago, lost love--that once found it is so much better the second time around. The romanticism of this experience is universal, and social networking has made it all too easy for folks to look up old lovers with the intention of reconnecting and experiencing that first (and hopefully) final love again. Many folks could be vulnerable to getting swept away by the promise of such an experience, and it is pretty clear that Susan reconnected with Dan in order to explore this possibility. What you don't know is what Dan is really feeling and thinking, however what he is doing and not saying do raise red flags and you would be foolish to ignore them.

Let's begin with what you do know about your relationship. It has always had open communication, it was built on friendship, mutual respect and trust--and those around you would describe you as having a great marriage. In the past, Dan was willing to discuss Susan, their relationship and their break-up, and was upfront about she contacted him via Facebook. As for what you don't know- it's anyone's guess unless and until Dan can tell you what is and what is not going on with Susan. There could be a number of reasons why he has shut down, and your reaction could be one of them. I am not saying you should avoid this topic just to keep the peace. What I am saying is that Dan could be concerned about how you would react if he told you about specific emails she has sent him or if he talked about old feelings that may have resurfaced--not necessarily feelings of love and a desire to be with her--more likely the memory of how he felt back then and how devastated he was when she said good-bye. He may be experiencing confusion, sadness and/or anxiety due to conflicting and confusing feelings.

What I'd recommend is that you tell Dan how much you miss the openness you have always had. Tell him you trust and believe in him and want to give him the space he needs to sort things out. Emphasize that you didn't ask him to unfriend Susan in order to dictate his friends--you wanted to come first and knew he would understand this. If you have concerns about how to approach Dan and have this kind of talk, consider seeing a competent therapist for a few individual sessions. Then together you can decide how to involve Dan in couples counseling.

Being proactive and taking action now is the best way to help you and Dan turn this situation around and get back on the same team. Having a trained and experienced guide will help ensure the best outcome.

(from March 2015)

Want to read other columns on this subject?

"Seriously Considering Divorce"
List of more
"Emotional and Physical Affairs"

This is the last "Emotional and Physical Affairs" column.


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


Copyright 2008-2015 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.

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