John* recently filed for divorce from his wife of 10 years.  They have 2 children together.  He originally came to me concerned that he and his wife had become both emotionally and physically distant from one another.   He complained his wife obsessed over her new Facebook account; constantly monitoring it through her mobile phone.  John feared the worst.  But every time he confronted his wife with his concerns, he was reassured that she was just talking to “old friends from school” or “co-workers.”

Turns out that John’s wife had reconnected through Facebook with an old high school boyfriend.  They had been having an affair for almost a year. 

And so John became the 1,011th  spouse to file for divorce in Bucks County this year.

Some sources estimate Facebook plays a role in one out of every five divorces.

While that number seems high to me, as a divorce attorney I will unequivocally say Facebook, along with the gambit of internet dating sites, is boosting my business. Internet social networking is increasingly becoming a conduit through which affairs and intimate contacts are sparked, kindled and fanned.

According to Lynne Lee, a local counselor and therapist: “Sites like Facebook are contributing to separations and divorce as bored 40 and 50-somethings try to reconnect with childhood sweethearts.”

“Relationships develop more quickly online as inhibitions are lowered, information is easily exchanged, and there’s an endless amount of people you can link up with who are there for the same reason.” Lee says.  “ Plus the real life pressures of a real relationship are absent…it tends to be a bit of a fantasy world.”

Everyone has some degree of fantasy about a love that might have been from the past.  The new technology helps you find and reconnect with these people.  It’s an easy escape from the “doldrums” of marriage when the sparks fade after years of raising children and the pressures of maintaining a home.

Lee, who counsels couples, encourages them to talk about how Facebook can hurt as well as help their relationship.  She offers the following boundaries for spouses on Facebook: 

  • Avoid “friending” exes
  • “Friend” each other and bring each other up from time to time on the site
  • Keep conversations with people of the opposite sex public on Facebook “walls”
  • Share user names and passwords with each other and encourage your spouse to login to your account so they can be assured there are no secrets
  • List yourself as “married” in your status (its kind of like a cyber wedding ring)
  • Never put down your spouse or bring up relationship problems on Facebook
  • When in doubt “defriend”  Lee emphasizes this one.  If you find yourself frequently looking at someone else’s profile or waiting for their next post – you need to walk away by “defriending” that person
  • Don’t spend more time online than with your spouse.  Escaping into a cyber fantasy world and pursuing an exciting encounter is a poor excuse to avoid confronting real life issues in a real relationship, especially if children are involved

Social networking is here to stay.  The sooner couples talk about it, the less harm it can do to a marriage.  Setting up boundaries to protect your marriage, both in life and online, doesn’t mean you’re an untrusting, insecure or jealous person.  It means you recognize that even people with the best of intentions can compromise themselves.

Spend some facetime with your spouse to make sure you are on the same page with Facebook.

*Names have been changed.  Used with permission of the client.