Reverend Cedric A. Miller made national headlines last week when he gave his “married church leaders until Sunday to get off the social-network website or resign their posts.” His statements caused quite a stir, and everyone had varying thoughts on the issue. Miller said he came to that decision after a “large percentage of his counseling over the past year and a half has been for marital problems, including infidelity, stemming from Facebook.” Though information about Miller’s own infidelity made the news this week, which I’m sure have caused many to excuse his statements all together, his comments are worth looking at.
Miller’s observations about Facebook and infidelity are not new, and many marriage and family therapists are reporting an ever growing increase in the number of couples who blame Facebook for their marital failures, or lack of faithfulness in their marriage (I would say between 35%-45% of the couples I work with). Even one law firm made the news recently when they cited that 1 in 5 of their divorce cases makes references to Facebook in their petitions. In fact, more and more lawyers are bringing Facebook, MySpace and Twitter into evidence in divorce cases.
It’s easy for us to dismiss edicts that are similar to the one made by Reverend Miller. We might think he is being irrational. Out of touch. Not being realistic. Or just missing the point. What I tried to understand in the story was, here was a pastor who was not only struggling with his own infidelity, but also struggling with how to help congregants who were caught up in their own unfaithfulness. A connection was made to Facebook, and an intervention was made.
Interventions can be very helpful when people are struggling with addictions, a lack of boundaries, and sometimes just need a clean break to get back on the right path. We see this in recovery work with alcoholics, drug users, sex addicts…so maybe at some point, actually asking people to refrain from, or not use a technological device that has been used in some unhealthy ways is not at all that inappropriate (read: Is Your Addiction to Technology Transforming Your Life).
Facebook is not to blame (read: Facebook Isn’t the Problem…But Maybe Your Marriage Is), nor is any other technological device that leads people to act in harmful ways. There are underlying issues that must always be addressed if we are to truly work on the problem…in this case…our marriages. Miller’s edict may in fact be helpful to some of the couples as an intervention, but if the root issues are not truly addressed, and we don’t take responsibility for our behavior, then the very behavior we blame on Facebook will pop its head up somewhere else.
There are lots of things we could discuss, and all kinds of directions we could go, but if I could have you remember and practice three things…this would be it (for now).
We have got to become more aware of the impact that technology plays upon our relationships. It is not neutral, therefore it has far reaching implications into all aspects of relational life. As surely as you sit and read this post, know that technology is transforming your relationships.
The Marshall McLuhan quote from the top of the post I took from my friend John Dyer’s post, and he expands on it here:
McLuhan is saying that we become “technological idiots” when we simply place all technology in the “how you use it” bucket without understanding that any use of technology – for immoral or moral ends – will have some effect on us. In other words, we need more buckets for thinking about technology. We need to be able to discuss cognitive, relational, and physical effects of technology without immediately reverting into “good,” “bad,” or “how you use it” categories. (How to Become a “Technological Idiot” in One Easy Step: Think Like a Christian by John Dyer)
Unless I’m totally dense (and that’s a possibility), John, McLuhan, and others are saying that we have to not only think beyond just how we use technology, but also on how it is shaping our lives. If we fail to do that…well, then we are being “idiots” I suppose. And I’ve been one of the biggest “idiots”until some major “aha” moments began to reshape my thinking in this area.
So what should we have awareness of when using Facebook? Two key things come to mind:
- Facebook creates/allows access. Like the car and telephone that came before it, social media technology gives us access into areas of our lives and others that we didn’t have access to before. That is an awesome thing, but it also requires us to bear an awesome responsibility in how we navigate that access. So just be cognizant of the fact that you have access to others when you communicate with them on Facebook, and that that access fosters relationship. Does the access you have with specific others on Facebook hinder, or help your marital relationship?
- Facebook has a transforming affect on your marital relationship. Don’t be naive. It may be in your face, or it may be subtle, but it is currently under work in how it is transforming your marital relationship. It probably transforms it in some really great ways. I love seeing my wife’s status updates when I’m at work during the day. And I love seeing some of the pics she posts. What is probably less noticeable is when my wife and I aren’t connecting and I choose Facebook as the tool to help me connect with someone else rather than her. Or it probably doesn’t notice how I allow the affirmation from others online shape my identity in some unhealthy ways.
I have been a strong believer that social media technology is a strong force in shaping our identity. I like Kenneth Gergen’s concept of the “saturated self”, as well as Andrew F. Woods and Michael J. Smith’s “mediated self.” These concepts have huge implications for us, and how we, therefore, live in a marital relationship with our spouse. But the most understandable for me in my marital interactions comes from the “reflected sense of self” concept that marriage and sex therapist David Schnarch so eloquently writes about in his book, Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive. In his book he says:
“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.’”
This “reflected sense of self” is often what drives one partner into an affair, because they like and desire the “reflected sense of self” the affair partner reflects back to them, than the reality that the spouse presents. This can happen in social media very easily as we often hop online, liking our “reflected sense of self” we receive from the online identities we have constructed and the adoration that they receive from others. Many choose to have an affair with their online life and social media world, at the expense of their spouse and family. And others actually carry that affair offline (read: Are You Having an Affair With Your Social Media Persona?).
Maybe you haven’t noticed that I actually, really do, love social media technology, and use it quite a bit. So the biggest shift in my thinking over the last year hasn’t been to declare that Facebook or Twitter or the web as being evil, but rather, to set some healthier boundaries in my life when it comes to using the technology. If the technology is going to have a transforming affect on my relationships, then I want to at least be able to dictate to the technology (as much as possible) in what ways I will and won’t allow it to shape me…rather than the other way around. Social media technology can be a brutal task master. I have talked about boundaries at length on my blog before (read: Setting Boundaries With Technology Can Help You Maintain Your Sense of Self and Identity), but let me highlight a few suggestions that I and others have found helpful when it comes to social media technology and marriage.
- Time Limits: Bottom line…you should have a time limit with the amount of time you spend online on your computer, the amount of time you play with your phone, etc. If you don’t have time limits in place, you can easily get consumed by the technology. Placing time limits on technology allows you to be in control, and not the other way around. If you can’t place time limits, then I would say, you probably have some form of addiction to the technology. Or you might be allowing technology to have more influence on your identity than you thought. There are various tools (web apps) that can help you do this, as well as you have the ability to control time limits from your computer server. Some people say to me, “I work with computers all day, I can’t be offline?” My response is usually, “Really? You can’t ever be offline at all? If that’s the case, then there are other problems.” You should still be able to set time limits. Setting limits can also signal to your spouse that they, rather than the technology, are more important to you.
- Physical (Basket, Car, Closet, etc.): Find some physical thing such as a basket, your car, or a closet to put all of your technological items in at some point in the day. The physical place is a reminder to set your stuff aside. It not only reminds you, but it reminds your family as well. It also serves as a symbol to you, your family, etc, that they are more important than the technology that so often gets in the way of relationships. They can look over at the basket and be reminded of a family’s priorities. Have you ever looked over at your spouse while they were on Facebook and wondered, I wish they would get off that thing and connect with me? You can set physical boundaries in a variety of ways, but what works well for me is that we have a tray that I put my phone and computer and other tech items in every night when I walk in the door. Those items remain in that tray unless I may need them for some reason, but it has to be a good reason…not just browsing or killing time. One family I know has everyone put their laptops and phones in their basket every night at 9pm, and no one can access the basket till 8am the next morning. John Dyer has a good post about this, Why You Need A Technology Basket At Home.
- Tech Sabbath (Various Rhythms): I am always reminded that God created the earth in six days and then rested on the seventh day. There was a rhythm of work and rest in his life, yet we seldom feel the need to model this example, instead working or being plugged in all seven days. I think that an important boundary people can set in relation to their technology is a sabbath. One day a week…Five to six days a month…Two to three weeks a year…where you are unplugged. A sabbath is a reminder to us that our life is not dictated by work or technology, but that it is a life given unto God, rather than the tools we use. I believe everyone should have at least one day a week where they don’t get online, check email, Twitter, FB, blog, etc, etc. Most people can do this. It’s rare that you have to/must check email everyday. Often the inability to unplug from email one day a week says something more about your inability to create healthy boundaries, than it does about the reality of people not really needing you immediately, and as badly as you think. Experiment with different rhythms, but setting time aside to be unplugged is not only restorative for you, but a great model to your family. It reminds them of who is the most important…them, not the technology.
- Ask Others (Galatians 5:22-23): My favorite professor in seminary said to our class one day, “If you really want to know if I’m someone who lives out the fruit of the spirit that Paul talks about in Galatians, then ask my family who lives with me everyday…don’t take my word for it.” We often have a false sense of reality. I may think that I’m good with establishing boundaries with my technology, but that may not really be the case. The people who would really know would be my wife, my friends, my children, my co-workers, etc. Go to your spouse, friend, etc. and ask them, “Give me an honest assessment about my use of technology. Do I have healthy boundaries? Am I on my phone too much? Does my use of technology get in the way of our relationship?” Don’t take your word for it. Ask others.
- Strive for Face to Face: When at all possible, strive to meet, talk with your spouse face to face. If you can talk face to face, rather than text…do that. If you can sit down over coffee, rather than email, then do that. Anytime you have the opportunity to meet face to face, take the opportunity. Don’t let Apple dictate to you and your spouse how you should emotionally connect.
Thanks for checking out the post. My thoughts on social media technology and how it shapes our lives and relationships is a work in progress…so any thoughts, feedback, pushback you have…feel free to chime in.