Facebook, Privacy, and Marital Oneness

IMG_4614Maybe it’s me, but there seem to be an awful lot of couples posting things on their facebook accounts to each other about their relationship. From “you’re the best boyfriend ever” to “he said ______ when he proposed” to “I’m pregnant, Honey”.

Now, the emotional side of a relationship is just as real as the sexual one. Making out in public is unacceptable, but the emotional equivalent is almost expected online. Nobody minds if a couple holds hands, or gives each other a peck on the cheek, but even unbelievers keep public displays of affection under control when there are other people around. But so often, Christian couples are “over the top” in their emotional interaction online.

People do it for all sorts of reasons: it’s a convenient way to communicate (obviously), publicity is the way social media works, “likes” are addictive, everyone else is doing it, and you don’t want people to think that a) your relationship is falling apart since you’re not gushing on each other’s walls, or b) that you’re an obsessively private, tightly shod leftover from a former era. When all your other friends are posting about their honeymoon, you look like the one who is spoiling the group relationship when you don’t dish.

I can handle mush and gush in my news feed. And while it doesn’t bother me to skip over the gory details of someone else’s romantic relationship, I think it’s the couples themselves who loose something in posting things like these.

The emotional exclusivity that existed in a marriage before social media – or before everyone put everything on their social media – is eroding. Before twitter, and especially before e-mail, if you wanted to communicate something to your spouse when they weren’t around, you had to either call them or send them a handwritten letter. Both of these forms of communication are pretty private, especially since calling on a phone used to mean being in a particular room attached by a cord to a desk or wall.

No husband in his right mind would invite 500 people into his office to listen to and comment on a phone call to his wife. But people are quite happy to have hundreds of people not only read but also like, comment on, and even share love notes to their significant others. Moments that used to be private – part of a couple’s private emotional history – are now public domain.

This has to have an impact on a relationship. Even if you feel more connected to your friends and followers by communicating these previously private thoughts and events, it takes away some of the delight and intimacy of what it means to be man and wife – what it means to be one. Posting things about your relationship (even good things) doesn’t mean that you’re headed for divorce, but it has to mean that the emotional exclusivity that God designed to strengthen and build a marriage is weakened as you share and tweet. This is especially true when your facebook friends are not only family and close friends, but also acquaintances, co-workers, and college friends whom you haven’t seen for years. You are telling deep, meaningful things about your relationship to people who don’t care.

Sharing private details can also be harmful to other people. Think twice about posting about your wonderful husband and ask yourself how your friend with an adulterous husband is going to feel when she reads it. Ponder for just a moment what your excitement in telling your husband that you are pregnant is going to do for an infertile woman at church. What is your still single brother going to think when he sees your pictures of the romantic dinner you planned for your fiancee? Is the couple with the struggling marriage going to be encouraged or depressed by your “you are the best wife and I’ll love you forever!” status?

I am not arguing that it is wrong to share anything about your relationship online. Sure, tell people that he bought you roses on your anniversary – your florist and bank know it already, and anyone walking into your living room will, too. Solomon and his bride had friends (real, not cyber friends) hear some of their conversation. But not all of it. In fact, at points in the Song, it is obvious that they want to get away where they can’t be heard so they can talk in private. Those intimate, deep feelings and moments in a marriage should be kept intimate and deep: private.

The next time you have the urge to tell your husband or wife something amazing, life-changing, or relationship building, try using a message, calling, or even sending a hand written note that they can keep. Keep doing it for a while – maybe a lifetime – and see how your relationship grows.

“My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away… Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.” (Song of Solomon 2:10-15) ~ from the archives