Affairs Destroy Relationships

If I have learned one thing in my decade as a marriage counselor, it's that the pain and destruction caused by an affair is never, ever worth it. Furthermore, while couples can and do successfully rebuild trust after an affair, it is a long and difficult process. (Check out “Sorry isn't good enough: How to repair the trust in your relationship.”)

I have also learned that very few people intentionally set out to have an affair that destroys their family, and blows up their life. Most affairs start when someone starts to get fluttery feelings for an attractive stranger and then fails to put on the brakes. Before they know it, they've unleashed a half-pleasurable, half-nightmarish situation that is impossible to escape, unscathed.

The “co-ed work trip” used to be the most vulnerable situation for a new dalliance to spark. But in recent years — as with so many other aspects of life — the opportunity to get involved in an emotional entanglement has gone digital. And it's literally in your pocket. Or your bed.

Why Facebook, Instagram and other social media is such a breeding ground for affairs.

I had an interesting experience on Facebook recently that gave me fresh insight into the problem of the “Social Media Induced Affairs” that have plagued many of my couples counseling client’s relationships.

Just like you, I'm on the ‘book and have the usual dozens of “Do you know this person?” thumbnails of elementary school mates, acquaintances, and friends of friends inviting me to connect with them.

Out of curiosity recently, I scrolled through, only to see the smiling face of a fellow who I had the most massive crush on in junior high school. He still looked great. I thought about how very easy it would be to casually “friend him,” and engage with him as an adult. I thought about what it would be like to catch up with him, tell him what I was up to these days, see if he's still living in Roanoke…


This was not actually the guy. But you get the idea. Thanks for not judging! 


But then, thankfully, something about that snapped me right out of my high school reverie about my John Stamos lookalike crush, and back into reality.  I am not thirteen. I am an extremely-married mom, with a husband who would probably not appreciate me corresponding on a regular basis with men who I once had crushes on. (Or John Stamos.)

But at that moment of feeling silly, and a little guilty, I also thought, “Huh. So this is how it happens.”

The experience made me reflect on the many, many couples I've worked with in marriage counseling who had become entangled in extra-marital relationships that began this way. Some had fallen into emotional affairs with people from their past. (Read, “Telltale Signs of an Emotional Affair.“) Some couples were suffering because one partner was having an online flirtation (causing their partner terrible anxiety in the process).  And more than a few were couples recovering from actual, sexual affairs that began through social media.

My own experience showed me just how terribly easy, and innocent these things must be at the beginning. A casual “hello” that no one else knows about… a nice profile photo, combined with tidbits of carefully curated information about how wonderful your life is now and… the mutual fantasy begins.

Of course these online “relationships” are largely made up of daydreams: Illusions ignited by witty comments that the other person had hours to think up, super-fun vacation photos, a one-line description of their glamorous-sounding profession.

Facebook and Instagram are the perfect scaffolding on which to hang small details, snippets of conversations, and beautiful images — all of which bloom romantically in our minds. We get just enough information to create a relationship with a persona. And of course, a fantasy relationship is always going to be more satisfying and meaningful than the real-world, occasionally frustrating relationship with the graying, imperfect and sometimes grumpy person sitting next to you on the couch every evening.

Never forget: Fantasy is at the heart of all seduction.

All Facebook and social media profiles are fantasy-based. Everyone is awesome on Facebook. No one is posting photos of their disgusting refrigerator, or about how much debt they've accrued in financing their enviable vacations they're posting photos of, or about how their husband has been grumbling for three months about how they never have sex anymore while they sit around all night and drink wine and post crap on Facebook instead.

But I think the most insidious thing about Facebook is how available people are: It is extremely easy make contact with another person, and how secret those contacts can be. You close your laptop or turn off your iPhone, and no one is the wiser that you just spent several minutes bantering with an old flame.

If, for whatever reason, your current relationship is currently in a dissatisfying and / or boring place (as absolutely all long-term relationships are, periodically) you're even more vulnerable to connecting with someone who's more interesting or gratifying to communicate with than your partner currently is.

And right then, maybe with out even knowing it, you have all the ingredients to cook yourself up a steaming hot plate of affair.

Fantasy + Availability + Secrecy + Dissatisfaction = Affair

Of course, this recipe does not always buy you a one-way ticket to a sexual or emotional affair, but it sure could brew into the perfect storm. I think that this is why so many couples get into trouble with it.

So how to Facebook Affair-proof your marriage?

Start by targeting the core ingredients. If you take out any one of them, your marriage becomes fortified against the shiny opportunities that Facebook offers. Over the next few weeks I will be posting a series of articles that discuss how to focus on eliminating the most dangerous parts of the social media experience. You'll learn how to protect your relationship from the slippery slope that our online interactions so cheerfully, so innocently, pulls us all towards.

But for now, take away the main points of todays post:

Emotional entanglements always start innocently, and they are fueled by fantasy, secrecy, availability, and dissatisfaction. And never forget that there is much, much more to the story than what you see when you're viewing someone else's life through the window of your smart-phone.

Check back to the blog next week for the next installment in this series!

xo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Ps: Has YOUR relationship by damaged by either your (or your partner's) involvement on social media? If so, share your story in our “judgment-free” comment section!