Love, Self

The Must-Read Social Networking Safety Guide For Couples

social networking

"It's harmless! I don't know why you're getting so uptight about this!" Justin tells his girlfriend Ellen — and not for the first time. He can't understand why she feels so threatened by the comments that Justin posts about and to other women. He also doesn't see why she makes such a big deal about it all.

To Justin, the back and forth teasing, joking and chatting he does on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are completely within the bounds of  being faithful. Sure, some of the women he interacts with online are people he had relationships with or dated in college, but that's in the past. He's not doing anything wrong and he gets annoyed when Ellen brings the subject up. She seems to know more about his posts than he does!

Ellen accuses him of flirting, trying to make her jealous and of even having an online affair with an ex from college. Justin is fed up with the drama and Ellen has had it with feeling ignored, neglected and possibly cheated on.

Neither of them wants to breakup, but it's painfully clear that something has got to change!

Is social media really to blame?

Unfortunately, with the advent of social networking came the potential for relationship trouble. It's just too easy to make a connection (or re-connection) from a distance. That's not inherently wrong, but those connections can quickly morph from innocent to affair if you're not paying attention.

Confusion, misunderstandings, jealousy and wrecked relationships can be the result when social networking isn't engaged in mindfully. And, just to be clear, what happens online DOES count. There can be (and are) online affairs that cause serious damage to relationships and marriages. There are also people who are NOT having online affairs and who aren't being inappropriate, but their partner jumps to conclusions, gets jealous and throws around accusations. This also leaves a path of relationship destruction in its wake.

So, is social networking to blame for the tension, conflict and possible future break up in your own relationship or marriage? Nope. Social networking is simply an online tool and YOU (or your partner) get to choose how you use it. You are the one to decide how you will be both online and in your relationship. You are the one to decide how much of your energy and attention you use to focus on what gets posted on your partner's wall — and what you wonder he or she is doing when you're not watching. You are also the one who can sit down with your partner and come up with some social networking agreements you both can feel good about and you'll both actually follow.

If arguments about your social-networking habits are a common occurrence between you and your partner, don't just dismiss him or her as paranoid or overly jealous. Instead, really listen and ask yourself if there's truth in what's being said. While your partner may have a jealousy problem, it could be that some of your behaviors may be triggering and unnecessarily sparking jealousy and insecurity. Take ownership for any inappropriate or flirty things that you say or do online.

Before you chat, post, tweet, message or otherwise interact with others, ask yourself what your intentions are. Will this strengthen or erode trust in your relationship? In other words, is this online connection you're about to make really worth the potential risk to your relationship? Are we saying that you should severely restrict yourself and, if you're heterosexual, you shouldn't have online friends of the opposite sex? Nope. Banning any online (or real world) interactions with people of the opposite sex won't necessarily solve any jealousy or trust problems you and your partner are struggling with. Severe restrictions on your social networking activities may not be the cure all you're looking for.

Honest, open and effective communication is the answer

First, look for what's contributing to the disconnection in your relationship (it's likely to be more than just social networking) and start making some real changes that will repair trust and bridge the distance between you two.

Explore your own urges and intentions and try to understand where they're coming from. Is there something you perceive to be missing in your relationship? Instead of suffering inside about it, make requests (without complaining or criticizing) that will bring you more of what you're craving.

Make the decision to remove any online temptations that may be distracting you from your relationship. This could mean you refrain from messaging particular people or you unfriend them. Again, the question is, what's most important to you?

Create realistic agreements with your partner that you both will follow so this doesn't feel punitive or one-sided. You and your partner may decide to only have visible interactions with others and no messaging or communication in private spaces. Trust will strengthen when you both are transparent and not secretive about what you do online.

And even if you aren't connecting with others online, you may be damaging your relationship with the sheer amount of time you spend staring at a screen. Include in your relationship agreements a promise to put down your phones, tablets or laptops and regularly look at each other. Talk with each other. Be present, and really love each other.

Finding the right words to create agreements, talk about trust and ask for what you want can be tricky. Don't doom a conversation by picking words and phrases that shut your partner down.

We tell you how to say what you need to say in this free "Magic Words" video. Trying to resolve the jealousy in your relationship? Maybe you are just trying to ease the tension, you can get trust back into your relationship by using the right words