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Triangling Facebook Into the Marital Unit
Often I find myself working with a kid in therapy whose parents have brought him/her in because of the problems they are creating in the family. In therapy/counseling terms that kid has become the identified patient. In short, the identified patient is:

The family member in whom the family’s symptom has emerged or is most obvious.

But often it doesn’t take long to realize that the problem really isn’t the kid, but rather the kid is just “acting out” because of what is going on in the family–the kid is carrying/becomes the carrier of the family problem. The scapegoat. This isn’t usually intentional, and is often done at an unconscious level in order to place blame on one member of the family in order to relieve anxiety in the other members–such as the marital unit. This is often why triangles are formed–in order to relieve the anxiety between two people.

BUT, I don’t think Facebook is really the problem. Rather, it’s just an easy scapegoat. Can it contribute to the problem? Yes. Can it be a catalyst in unhealthy marriage relationships? Certainly. But to blame Facebook would be to remove ourselves from the relational responsibility we have. And what about all the great things Facebook can accomplish–ways that it can enhance marriage relationships (I will talk about that later this week).

Non-Technological Neutrality, Marriage Relationships and Facebook
I’m definitely not a technological expert, but I have been learning a lot from John Dyer and others in this area. One of the things I have learned the most about is the non-neutral nature of technology which John speaks about quite a bit and in which I write about more recently in the post, Is Your Addiction to Technology Transforming Your Life. For example, I write:

At the ECHO conference John had a seminar titled Using Technology without Technology Using You. John’s main premise was that technology is not neutral. It can be both good and bad. But ultimately the use of technology is not neutral in that it transforms the user in some way. John gave the example of working with a shovel (a primitive technological tool). The shovel can be put to good use (church planting, building a home, etc.) and it can be put to bad use (killing someone, burying the body, etc.). But in either case it transforms the user in the form of blisters/calluses on the hand. The same is true of technology, whether you use it for good or bad, it still transforms you in some way when you use it.

So the question we all need to ask ourselves is, how is the technology and the tools we are using transforms us? And how does our use of technology transform those we relate to?

This is how I have come to understand the role of technology in my life.

Facebook is not the problem, but if we think that our use of Facebook isn’t transforming our marriage relationships in some way–then I think we are mistaken.

One of the things that I think John has done best is to take technological devices such as the cell phone, and place them in Marshall McLuhan’s Four Laws of Media, or the tetrad of media effects. John does this in his most recent post, Four Questions for Technology from the Biblical Story. In fact, John goes a step further and comes up with his own “tetrad of technology in the biblical story.”

McLuhan, Facebook and Your Marriage
What I want to do is look at McLuhan’s tetrad, and look at Facebook and marriage relationships for our example (with a nod to John Dyer for helping us think through these things).  Now, I’m admitting up front that this is tricky in some ways–but it’s something worth exploring–plus I would like some input on the idea, and see where you agree or disagree.

So what are we talking about?

McLuhan designed the tetrad as a pedagogical tool, phrasing his laws as questions with which to consider any medium:

1. What does the medium enhance?
2. What does the medium make obsolete?
3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
4. What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?

The laws of the tetrad exist simultaneously, not successively or chronologically, and allow the questioner to explore the “grammar and syntax” of the “language” of media.

These are the questions we will be asking ourselves, and remember, we are being specific about Facebook and marriage relationships (though those aren’t the only relationships we could look at). And I will try and keep it focused on 1 to 2 specifics rather than all the trails we could head down. Those are for your further comments.

Question #1: What does Facebook enhance?
Facebook enhances our ability to stay continually connected with our spouse throughout the day when we are not in each other’s presence. This is done through wall posts, status updates, comments, photos, direct messages, etc.

Question #2: What does Facebook make obsolete?
Facebook often makes obsolete the desire for “in person” connection with our spouses, assuming that we know everything about them through Facebook.

Question #3: What does Facebook retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
Facebook retrieves/restores the ability for spouses to share parts of their story that were previously unknown or buried away in boxes. A good example of this is the posting of old photos, or the reconnecting with old friends that can bring greater clarity to a spouse’s history. Another example is finding out information about your spouses that you just don’t normally share in day to day conversation. The small tedious stuff that is often lost. (This is the one question that I find really tricky–and often hard to answer in this paradigm).

Question #4: What does Facebook flip into when pushed to extremes?
When pushed to extremes, Facebook can create “ambient intimacy” and “ambient awareness” with others who are not your spouse. This “ambient intimacy” and “ambient awareness” can create unhealthy relationships with others, often driving spouses away, rather than towards one another. This is where spouses can often use Facebook as an escape, thinking that that person on the other end would make life easier–rather than dealing with their spouse.

One of the key things to remember is that “laws of the tetrad exist simultaneously, not successively or chronologically,”
and that what can be a positive (“ambient intimacy” between spouses), can become a negative (“ambient intimacy between non-spouses).

It can get very tricky, very quickly.

Concluding Thoughts
What I hope people take away is the idea that Facebook really isn’t the problem in the marriage relationship. It can definitely be the catalyst or the means by which unhealthy behavior is fostered and carried out. But it is more than likely that that same behavior exists without the help of Facebook. Facebook was just simply a boundaryless opportunity to exercise online what one may have, or may have not been inhibited to exercise in person.

If you find yourself in this situation where Facebook has become a problem in your marriage relationship, then now is the time to address your marriage.