For relationships, technology a two-edged sword, experts insist - Word&Way

For relationships, technology a two-edged sword, experts insist

After Jason Krafsky introduced his wife, Kelli, to Facebook, he wasn’t sure how to respond when she told him she had just connected online with her “first love.”

“It took me a couple of days to sort through my feelings about that,” Krafsky said. “I began looking at Facebook through a different set of lenses.”

Krafsky trusted his wife and knew her contact with an old boyfriend was “all in fun—nothing alarming about it.” And in thinking about it, he realized how many of his online friends were women—including some he had dated years earlier.

But as a minister with 15 years experience as a marriage educator and conference leader, he also knew he and his wife needed to have a serious conversation.

“I know how affairs often happen. It’s a slippery slope of circumstances and choices that can happen so quickly,” said Krafsky, a former church planter in the Pacific Northwest.

Together, the Krafskys determined clear boundaries regarding how they would use social media and with whom they would establish online friendships.

“It’s so easy to be two or three clicks away from making a bad decision,” he said.

Without question, some social media users make decisions that destroy relationships. The Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reports 20 percent of divorces now involve Facebook in some way, and 80 percent of divorce lawyers indicate they have seen an increase in the number of divorces involving social media.

Still, the Krafskys remained convinced Facebook holds too much potential for good to abandon it altogether.

“A lot of good things can happen, and it can be a phenomenal tool to be a witness and provide support for people who are going through tough times. People share of lot of real life on Facebook. Getting off (social media) is not the answer. Setting limits is,” Krafsky said.

In articles posted on their website,, and in the book they wrote together, Facebook and Your Marriage, the Krafskys shared some of their insights and suggested safeguards, such as keeping public any correspondence with people of the opposite sex by posting comments on a wall or commenting on status updates, not entering chat rooms or lengthy e-mail exchanges.

Before accepting or offering a Facebook friend request, they recommend asking: “Would my spouse be comfortable with me being friends with this person?”

They also suggest guidelines that include limits on the time spent on social media.

“If your spouse thinks you are spending too much time on Facebook, you are spending too much time on Facebook,” Krafsky said in an interview.

Common sense and common courtesy also should guide online behavior. Complaining on Facebook about the weather may be harmless, but publicly griping about a spouse is not.

“When we started on Facebook, we made the decision not to post anything that would put each other down, complain about each other, or embarrass the other person in front of our Facebook friends,” the Krafskys wrote.

Social media users also should gauge and guard their feelings—particularly about renewed friendships with old boyfriends or girlfriends. The mind tends to “auto-delete” the reasons for break-ups and create false fantasies about how warm and wonderful those relationships used to be, they warn.

“The best way to avoid going down the slippery slope is to avoid climbing the hillside of opportunity in the first place,” the Krafskys wrote.

While the Krafskys see positive potential for social media, another couple who have written a book togeth-er on marriage take a harder line.

Jason and Debbie Coleman, authors of Discovering Your Amazing Marriage, warn readers about the dangers not only of social media, but also the many ways the Internet can undermine marriages.

“With the Internet, the sky is the limit with regards to potentially meeting, communicating and going too far with someone other than your spouse,” the Colemans wrote.

“It used to be that the risks were only within an immediate realm of influence such as the workplace, the gym, the grocery store or even your church, parish or synagogue. Now, all a person has to do is sign onto the Internet, do a quick search, and, voila, an affair is waiting to happen, delivered right into your own home.”

Cell phones, particularly with texting capability, also provide a means for improper relationships to develop, the Colemans noted.

“Just as with the Internet, allowing access to one another’s cell phones without question builds value and trust in your marriage. The moment a spouse denies access, a seed of doubt is planted; and if left to grow and take root, it could potentially destroy the marriage. Transparency and accountability are vital components of your marriage,” they wrote.

While others point to technology’s ability to create barriers between family members, Keith Sanford, associate professor of psychology at Baylor University, sees its potential to strengthen marital relationships.

Sanford has created an online program—Couple Conflict Consultant—to enable couples to assess their ability to work through differences and provide them strategies to resolve conflict.

Couples can log on at any time, day or night, at no cost and take an anonymous assessment that identifies strengths and weaknesses—and discover tools for healthy conflict resolution. A grant from Baylor University makes the online assessment tool possible.

“Getting an appointment to see a counselor can be a time-consuming process,” Sanford said. “This program is convenient, providing instant access at a point when the need is apparent, and it offers instantaneous feedback.

“It also allows us to reach couples we couldn’t reach before. As valuable as relationship enhancement seminars can be, often the couples who attend are those who need it the least. The strength of the online program is that those who might feel awkward about going to see a counselor or attending a seminar can take the assessment in the privacy of their own homes.”