How to protect your relationship from the effects of social media

Facebook can help you find the perfect partner and even render your relationship official. But revealing private details of your life has its downside. Here’s how to protect your relationship

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The impact of Facebook on your relationship

I think one impact the Internet has had on relationships is the spread of a World Wide Web of potential deceit. When my generation started dating, we knew our guy was either home with his mom and dad, at the hockey rink or at school. All of his friends went to school with us. And if no one was home when we called, the phone rang until we gave up. Today, the changes in how we connect are staggering. Not only do we expect to be able to connect with our spouse any time of the day, we can also pick up his cellphone and have instant access to almost every aspect of his life. Psychologically, being wired is weird. For anyone over age 35, our old-fashioned hearts and minds have trouble keeping up with the changes. If we are not careful, technology can trump trust.

Many of my patients bring Internet issues into therapy. One man gave his girlfriend his email password when she demanded it. She then scoured his communications, looking for proof that he was trustworthy. Her previous husband had cheated on her, and like so many people she has abandonment issues-deep, irrational fears that she will be betrayed again. But my patient gave up his own dignity and privacy in his effort to reassure her. Of course, no matter what information he provided, her fears were never laid to rest. She grilled him on a single line he had written to his high-school girlfriend in an email two years ago. Not only did my patient feel violated, he lost respect for his partner. I predict this relationship won't last.

To be psychologically healthy, we need some privacy and solitude. Even when we're in love, we need time alone with our thoughts, and time with friends. We can't be intimate with a partner without being in touch with the innermost parts of our private selves. And guess what? That means we need to leave our sweeties alone with their thoughts and friends, too. We don't have the right to know everything they think. When we enter into a monogamous relationship, we should get exclusive rights to what is between our partners' legs, but not to what is between their ears.

In the information age, this becomes more difficult. The dark side of trust and privacy is suspicion and snooping. I've had a patient like you before, whose husband would not let her be his Facebook friend. He claimed he was being open with her, and forwarded messages he was receiving from his ex-fiancée. Then my patient snooped into his emails, and discovered that he had been editing the emails he was forwarding to her, and that the original communications had far more intimate content. Perhaps her concerns were valid, but her methods were not.

So you need to balance openness with privacy when it comes to social media. Here are some guidelines:

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1. Accept your spouse as a friend

Add your spouse on Facebook (and share this column with him). Your spouse should be one of your best friends. If he's not, you may be married to the wrong person.

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2. Don't give out your passwords

Don't give or ask for passwords for email or voicemail accounts. Privacy is healthy.

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3. Share some messages

Discuss or forward messages that impact the relationship, such as correspondence with exes, or from people flirting with you-the original version; no edits allowed.

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4. Don't snoop

It feeds paranoia. If you have reason to believe your spouse is being dishonest, confront him. If you are snooping and can't stop, pick up your smartphone and make a smart call to a psychologist so you can address the underlying issues.

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5. Communicate daily

Get real, not virtual. We can't get intimate online. Let your heart, mind and voice have some real face time with the one you love. Turn off the computer, and turn each other on.

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Are long-distance relationships healthy?
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