[image by Rojer]

One of the things that I have come to understand more clearly about marriage affairs, has come from a result of my continual growth as a therapist working with couples, and as a result of some great insight from some mentors and authors. And this is what I have learned:

Affairs often have less to do with the other person, than how the person feels, or is perceived in that relationship. That person they are having an affair with reflects something back to them that they like. There is something they like that they don’t feel they are getting in their current marriage. Often the person having an affair lacks a clear sense of self, or has little differentiation, therefore they need someone to reflect back to them a sense of self they don’t actually have themselves.

Author and therapist David Schnarch puts it this way:

When we have little differentiation, our identity is constructed out of what’s called a reflected sense of self. We need continual contact, validation, and consensus (or disagreement) from others. This leaves us unable to maintain a clear sense of who we are in shifting or uncertain circumstances. We develop a contingent identity based on a ‘self-in-relationship.’ Because or identity depends on the relationship, we may demand that our partner doesn’t change so that our identity won’t either. (Passionate Marriage, pp. 59)

So what does this have to do with social media?

I am finding that more and more people are finding their sense of self in their online social media persona. It is in their constructed online self that they maintain constant contact with, and in the process, reflects back to them a sense of self.

This is something I struggle with myself, and that is probably why I’m writing this. I caught myself last week asking my wife if she had read a certain blog post I had written. And when she said she hadn’t, I was thinking inside to myself, “Well, it was a good post, and lots of other people read it, and gave me good validation online.” I didn’t say that, but thought that. That’s when I knew I might have a problem.

There is nothing wrong with having an online persona. The problem is when we rely on that persona for our sense of self. The problem is when how we view our sense of self online is more attractive and gratifying to us than how we view our sense of self in our families, marriages and relationships. The problem is when your marriage seems like a lot of hard work, and it’s just easier to hop online, send out tweets, post blogs, and hit the Like button on Facebook versus engaging your spouse.

If you think I’m being overly dramatic, or exaggerating, then I wish you could sit down with me and the couples I work with. This is becoming a huge problem and only growing more.

Sometimes our sense of self is reflected in our work. Or our children. Or maybe even a hobby. Sometimes it’s in the continual feedback and validation that is delivered through an iPhone. There are all kinds of things that we get our sense of self from…but I’m just happening to notice more readily the trend of people being disengaged from their marriages because they like what they see of themselves more online. They like the reflected sense of self in their relationship with social media than in their marriage relationship.