Did you know that a third of all divorce filings contain the word “Facebook”?
That’s according to a recently-released report by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. But before you go telling all your friends that “a third of all marriages end because of Facebook,” recognize what the report really says.
The truth is that Facebook is mentioned in one-third of divorce filings. Yes, a lot of those filing papers make reference to an online relationship. Some husbands or wives have even declared their intention to break up through Facebook, e-mail, or Instagram. But a great number of the divorce papers use Facebook messages or wall posts to make a case for divorce by pointing out a spouse’s uncivil behavior or poor parenting skills.
The widespread use of electronic media today makes it almost certain that Facebook and Instagram could be used by lawyers to build a legal web to snare an uncommitted spouse. And that’s on the rise. Consider that three years ago, 20 percent of divorce filings contained the word “Facebook.” Whatever the case, social media is definitely playing an increasing role in families and family breakups.
More important than that, I believe the level of social media engagement in our culture today is evidence that we’re putting a lot of time into passing interactions with others and not enough time in deep relationship-building with our spouse.
Recently I saw a comment on one of FamilyLife’s Facebook pages by a husband who took a little passing snipe at his wife for everyone to see. In all fairness, he was probably reaching out for help in an area of frustration in his marriage. But those kinds of comments, when read by a spouse, often make the problem worse by feeding a sense of embitterment or hurt.
Here are some principles that may help keep social media interactions from becoming words in a divorce filing.
1. Keep everything in the open. If you don’t have a joint husband/wife account (on Facebook, for example) make sure what you say online is nothing you couldn’t say with your spouse standing there beside you. Before messaging, ask yourself, Is this something I wouldn’t mind my spouse seeing? You may even consider letting your spouse read it first. It’s good for accountability, and it’s a good way to double-check that what you’ve written isn’t miscommunicating what you meant.
2. Say what you need to say … and say it to the right person. Rather than gripe about a marital problem on social media, talk directly with your spouse. If you think it might hurt feelings or get you in hot water, think of a way you can soften the blow when you raise the issue. In most cases, the following approach is helpful: “I know you care about me, and I know you probably didn’t think about it, but I feel (insert your emotion) when you (insert the offense). I don’t want problems to build that will isolate us. Can we work through this together?”
3. Use social media to build each other up. It’s never been easier than it is right now to send a note to each other for no reason at all, or to brag about your spouse in front of others. Social media makes it easy to connect with each other while you’re apart during the day, and that will keep a relationship from drifting. Just make sure that what you say online is reinforced by what you say and do when you see each other in person.
4. When you’re together, come together. It’s very easy, even when you’re home, to drift to your own individual social media corners. By the end of the evening, you realize that you’ve hardly spoken a word. This happens with parent-child relationships, too. Set your personal devices aside, and plan some face time (the real thing, not the Apple product.)
Above all else, remember these two driving principles of building and maintaining a relationship:
- The value of your relationship depends on the amount each of you invests in it.
- If you aren’t intentional about growing toward oneness, you’re automatically drifting toward isolation.
Don’t become a social media marriage casualty. Be intentional about strengthening your marriage and about avoiding the things that could potentially destroy it.