Nothing says 'Happy Valentine's Day' like a box of chocolates and not cheating on your spouse.
In a recent post I explored the hot, new marriage-wrecking trend of finding ex-loves on Facebook and rekindling old flames. It's seductive on so many levels. The social networking site allows you to create your public image with only your best, well-lit pictures and your wittiest, grammatically correct posts. People find each other and despite a 20, 30, or 40-year span, time stops and there you both are, in the heat and hormones of high school prom night, like not one second has gone by.
I had no idea this was going on until I kept hearing about it from old friends I got together with after finding each other on, of course, Facebook. In response to my post, one reader offered what seemed like the best way to protect your relationship from such intrusions of the past.
Here's what the person suggested:
"How about this? Be open from the start with your husband/wife about how the connection with the old flame makes you feel. Embrace the skip in the step, the foolish grin on your face. If he/she (old flame) makes you feel tingly, take it to the marriage bed. Re-kindle with the person you've chosen to spend the rest of your life with. Agree on ground rules with the spouse and the newly-found old flame. The best of all possible worlds would be to make room in your middle life for someone of the opposite sex with whom you share interests and a long history. For me, the non-negotiable ground rules include: no being alone together, either person can end the phone calls, emails, etc., at any time, and no lies to the spouse. I'm banking on the fact that Harry (from When Harry Met Sally) is wrong and that a man and a woman can be friends — even if they were once more than friends."
This all sounds incredibly wise and mature. My sense is that if you already have that kind of playful, trusting, open communication built into your relationship, an old high school flame popping up on Facebook is not going to have much of a chance with you. The qualities you describe, the ability to 'embrace' the tingly sensations and bring them into 'the marriage bed,' the kinds of conversations you can have with a level of trust and comfort and humor as your foundation; the ability to share these dangerous feelings with your partner and then to strategize about them, to set 'ground rules,' well, that seems like you are already well inoculated against the slippery slope of Facebook flirtations.
But let's say you're not. Let's say you are not comfortable having those conversations, admitting those feelings or asking if your partner is having those feelings for someone else? What if the very disconnectedness that leads you astray is the same thing that prevents you from taking preventive action?
Digital Double Lives
Even though I keep hearing anecdotes about these Facebook affairs, I didn't get the sense of urgency and calamity until I started poking around and reading and listening to all of the warnings from mental health experts, marital counselors and folks who study these things. For example, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen report the following:
"Technology isn't just enabling secretive behavior, it's accelerating it at record pace: Flirtatious friendships, emotional affairs, the return of the ex, sexting, online porn and cyber-sex—with each new advance in technology comes a new way to deceive, and more and more of us are increasingly leading "digital double-lives."
In her seminal book on emotional infidelity, "Not Just Friends," the late psychotherapist Shirley Glass implores readers to "maintain appropriate walls and windows. Keep the windows open at home. Put up privacy walls with others who could threaten your marriage."
But with the threat of the Internet, it's not just windows and walls we need to worry about, it's also leaks and seals. The No. 1 danger of Internet infidelity is not that it could lead to actual sexual infidelity, but that it so easily diverts precious emotional resources away from one's primary relationship."
What do you look for? What does this new twist on an age-old problem look like to an unsuspecting spouse?
Dr. Scott Haltzman, is a clinical assistant professor at Brown University Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior. He's the author of "The Secrets of Happy Families: Eight keys to building a lifetime of connection and contentment," "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife's Heart Forever," and "The Secrets of Happily Married Women: How to get more out of your relationship by doing less."
Dr. Haltzman offers clear and present dangers in his post "5 Warning Signs of Internet Infidelity." These red flags include: taking more private phone calls, erasing computer history, erasing texts on his/her phone, changing passwords frequently and not telling you, and powering down the computer when you enter the room.
Who knew this could be a constellation of behaviors to worry about?
What happens if an old flame e-mails?
In a blog post about what a man should do if an ex e-mails, Dr. Haltzman suggests putting the interests of your current partner above all else. Be polite, but clear. Read the post here.
Want to know more?
"Computers have changed not just the way we work but the way we love.
Falling in and out of love, flirting, cheating, even having sex online have all become part of the modern way of living and loving. Yet we know very little about these new types of relationship. How is an online affair where the two people involved may never see or meet each other different from an affair in the real world? Does online sex still involve cheating on your partner? Why do people tell complete strangers their most intimate secrets? What are the rules of engagement? Will online affairs change the monogamous nature of romantic relationships?"
Ideally, we'd all be in relationships described in the reader's advice from the top of this post. But if we're not……
I'm not trying to put a damper on your Valentine's Day. Go right ahead. Enjoy the chocolates. No really. The flowers are lovely. Dancing? Dancing sounds great. Who doesn't love dancing? I'm just saying, if you're seeing any of your relationship in these warning signs, go where the truth cannot hide: to a private investigator. Those guys know everything. What do they recommend if you suspect some Internet infidelity?
This stuff can save your marriage, they tell me. It is "capable of tracking pretty much anything on a computer. Whether they are typing in a chat room, watching or transmitting videos, sending seductive emails, or visiting websites, you can get the details you need to put any infidelity to an abrupt halt."
Happy Valentine's Day!
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