I enjoy a good challenge when it comes to downhill snow-skiing.
As young boys, my brother and I would find it thrilling to engage in what is known as “tree-skiing;” carefully skirting through the trees that lined the snow-ski runs, trying our best not to catch the tips of our snow-skis on the trunk of the trees, which we inevitably would from time to time, forcing us to face plant into the snow. The path through the trees, created by skiers before us, would look inviting. Smooth ski-tracks indicated success by skiers before us, when in reality, these tracks provided a false sense of security; this illusion of safety was quickly realized as we raced past each tree, attempting to dodge these immovable obstacles from our goal at the end.
Many married men and women today are looking at text messaging and social media direct messages with a similar sense of false security that encourages them to participate in emotional and sexual conversations with co-workers, neighbors, former partners and even strangers.
Even more concerning, they don’t find an issue with text message or social media infidelity.
Today’s instant connectivity with any and everyone is tempting many in marriages with a frequency or availability that has not been present before in the history of mankind. Married men and women have struggled with temptation through communicating with the opposite sex since the fall of man but the accessibility we have in communication today presents its own challenges.
As a professor, much of my research focuses on marriage fidelity communication. I seek to examine verbal and nonverbal communication with the opposite sex (like a co-worker, colleague, an ex, etc.) other than a spouse, both face-to-face and online. A lot of work focuses on communication that is deemed inappropriate or counter to the productivity, stability and overall success of a marital relationship.
False Sense of Security
Of all the marriages I have examined regarding text communication with someone other than their spouse, one consistent theme I’ve found is the sense of false security that exists when a married man or married woman communicates through text with the opposite sex. In this false sense of security, there is more of a willingness to divulge personal and vulnerable information to someone of the opposite sex when texting or through social media that otherwise would not be revealed.
There are a few reasons for this.
There’s a sense that text on a screen outside a marriage does not hold the same kind of consequences to a marital relationship that having sex outside a marriage would. Many argue, “These are just words on a screen, and will not impact my marital relationship.”
There is an illusion that everything digital is just that, an illusion; that there are no “real-world” consequences when living and communicating online.
Second, there is a sense of personal justification for actions: “My wife isn’t giving me what I need sexually in the bedroom, so talking sexually on Facebook with my co-worker satisfies that need of mine.”
Often the “grass-is-greener” theory comes into play. Words and images on someone’s social media account might communicate a more desirable life to someone whose life might not look like the images on the screen of the opposite person they’re communicating with or their life might not “read” like the text messages received from the opposite sex in a private message.
Third, there’s often a social justification for actions: “Everyone I know, including my husband, best friend and pastor from church texts with the opposite sex, and their marriages seem to be just fine.”
Finally, there’s a widespread ignorance in our culture to the potential devastating implications from communicating through texts and social media with the opposite sex. An “I’m just going to talk through text and social media with whoever, whenever, about whatever” attitude is spreading like a virus through all sectors of our culture, both Christian and non-Christian alike.
Marriages today are being devastated by married men and women not stewarding their communication with the opposite sex. Divorce courts provide raw evidence of Facebook’s impact on marital relationships for instance: In many counties around our country, upwards of 75 percent of divorce cases report the word “Facebook” in the proceeding. What is documented is often trivial and mundane topics that were discussed when they began messaging on Facebook. Conversations about the day’s activities and activities of their children transitioned quickly to topics about marital woes and hardships.
Emotional confiding steadily occurred, discussions about their dissatisfaction with their spouses was a prime topic of conversation. The emotional conversations often included sexual dialogue—discussing what they wished their spouse would do in the bedroom and what they’d allow the other to do with/to them in a hypothetical sexual situation.
The marriages I’ve seen devastated by this behavior, and particularly those that ended in divorce, did so because of the instigator’s desire to leave their spouse. In most cases, the spouse that first communicated with someone of the opposite sex became so emotionally detached from their marriage because of the connection they developed through text that they could not recover their original feelings for their spouse.
Incorporating practical guidelines into your marriage might help you to avoid the sliding down the slippery slope in the world of text and social media. Here are some helpful tips:
It is impossible to monitor every nuanced message that is sent and received between the people, thus I recommend never engaging in one-on-one text message communication with the opposite sex … ever. Rather, pick up the phone if you receive a text message from the opposite sex—like a co-worker—and call them. This will make your preference to communicate with them vocally clear. Look at texting as a private room with the door closed and locked. Would you find yourself in a locked room with the opposite sex on a daily basis? Temptation exists online and during texting equally as in a face-to-face setting. The temptations to communicate in ways that counter one’s marital covenant are great.
Don’t social media “friend” or “follow” people who you once dated, were once interested in (or vice versa), or who might be a temptation for you in your thoughts.
If you are already in a social media friendship/follower situation with them, unfriend/unfollow them. Taking preventive steps to protect yourself and your marriage takes precedence over them taking offense to your unfriending of them. Placing this safeguard on your social media friending habits will help safeguard your collective relationship with your spouse more thoroughly.
Have an ongoing conversation with your spouse regarding communication with the opposite sex on social media. Social media is continuously evolving, and the ways we can communicate both verbally and visually are expanding daily. Be cognizant of the changes in this evolution.
Consider combining your social media accounts with your spouse’s (including email). This encourages an atmosphere of complete transparency and discourages slipping into temptation due to having a private account.
Check your heart.
Be aware that you can commit adultery of the heart even without communicating with the opposite sex and that it can happen simply by perusing someone’s Instagram photographs to meet your visual fantasy desires (often times encouraging one-on-one private text messaging). Consider deleting social media that has a primary focus on communicating through pictures.
Unfortunately, many users today use Instagram to post pictures that rival soft-core (and sometimes hard-core) pornography.
The same way snow tracks indicated a false sense of security to my brother and I as we considered whether to maneuver our snow-skis through the trees, eventually ending in a face plant, texting and social media direct messaging indicate a false sense of security to married men and women.
Marriages will continue to be devastated by such communication until people realize that emotional and sexual feelings cannot be evenly distributed between one’s spouse and someone else of the opposite sex.
Only then can our culture begin to understand what it means to uphold the sanctity of marriage in a digital world.
is an assistant professor of communication at Taylor University. His teaching and research efforts are conducted through the lens of social psychology. He focuses primarily on marriage fidelity, relationship development/management, the self, nonverbal communication, persuasion, social influence and social media. He lives in Indiana with his beautiful wife, Stacey.