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I see more and more couples walking into my therapy office lately with a common theme: Facebook and how it has become an avenue to many problems in their relationships.
For example, if a couple is struggling with jealousy, partners may be more prone to "reading between the lines" when they see a friend wink to a post.
Or an emotionally unfulfilled partner may reach out for comfort to others online, because their partner is unavailable. Or maybe you don't want to have your same-sex relationship exposed online, but your partner feels hurt by the relationship being hidden.
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love social networking and I enjoy keeping in contact with others. At the same time, this online community does create a place where relationship dynamics surface.
Most of the relationship issues I see get magnified with the addition of an online community. But Facebook isn't the problem ... how you go about handling the stress in the relationship is the real issue.
Here are a few tips on how to prevent Facebook from driving a wedge into your relationship:
Address those issues head on, either by meeting with a therapist, reading relationship books together, or even reaching out to friends. Once the two of you feel more secure with one another, then journey into the online social networking world together, as a team.
If you want to write something like, "I absolutely love everything about you" on your partner's wall, ask about your partner's comfort level, first. Some family members may not be as supportive with your same-sex relationship as your partner's family. Talk about the differences and how you two want to handle each situation so there are no surprises.
Instead of omitting information about your life or hurting your partner's feelings by withholding the relationship, create various friend lists that allow you to control who sees each post. Create a gay-friendly friends list, where you can be "out" and share photos of the two of you. Not only will this prevent any pains with others, it can be a great way to show how proud you are of your relationship.
If your alarm goes off with a specific online friend, check in with your partner, first. Don’t start sneaking around, investigating, and doing your own research. It will only create a space where your mind will make up a thousand worst-case scenarios and leave the relationship feeling on edge.
Give your partner an option to reassure you, clarify, and take appropriate action. Share how you feel. Remember, your partner can’t read your mind and you shouldn't jump to conclusions simply because of a one-sentence post.
Make sure you and your partner are on the same page about sharing relationship issues. Avoid posting comments that are"emotional" or reactive. Make more posts about your day, something funny, or one of your challenges at work, to be safe.
Avoid hurt feelings and show clearly how proud you are of the relationship. Photos speak very loudly. But once again, keep in mind your partner's comfort level about being out online - see tip #2, above.
Show your partner that THEY are your priority and the online friendships come second. Avoid using social networking when you two are spending time together, going to bed together, or waking up together.
If you are emotionally unfilled, don't avoid the situation by going online. Instead, seek couples counseling, face the problems straight on and resolve them right away. Be aware of your emotional state and set limits on who you can and cannot reach out to, for comfort.
Be considerate and try to avoid any hurt feelings. Avoid selecting "It's complicated" if the status isn't really complicated. And for those of you who are notorious for weekly breakups, don't change your relationship status and be dramatic. Wait it out.
Remember, you can prevent a lot of relationship stress with Facebook. You just simply need to make an extra effort to create a safe place for your partner. Show them that they matter, that there is nothing to worry about, and give extra reassurance, if necessary.
Check in with your partner and see if anything upsets them. You can't read their mind, but you can talk about it and open up a dialog, to prevent problems from coming up.
Jennine Estes is a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego with a private practice in Mission Valley. She has appeared as a Relationship Expert in Redbook Magazine, Martha Stewart Publications – Whole Living Magazine, Social Work Today Magazine, San Diego local news stations, and more. To learn more relationship advice from the author Jennine Estes MFC#47653, visit her relationship column Relationships in the Raw or her new San Diego Couples Therapy website.