To Friend or Not to Friend, That Is the Question


Melvina Thornton, LICSW
Program Analyst
ODASD (MC&FP), Family Advocacy Program

Thanks to social media, I know that my best friend from elementary school just had her second child (it’s a boy!) and that my favorite college professor just got back from a trip to Disney World with his kids.  Social media is great for this type of thing; normally, I wouldn’t keep up with either of these two people, but it’s nice to know what’s happening in their lives from time to time.  However, as helpful as social media is to certain relationships, it can also become a problem when we don’t use it responsibly.    


After posting some pictures of a recent trip you took or writing a couple of posts about the latest tricks your dog can do, you may find yourself searching for an ex online, messaging with an old crush or telling a friend how good he or she looks in recently posted photos. This happens so easily with just a click or two, you may not even think about it or realize what you’re doing.  This type of behavior can seem harmless at the time, but it can lead to trouble in your existing relationships if you aren’t careful.  


How do you know when your behavior is blurring the line between acceptable and not?  What are the rules?  What do you need to know? Since social media is relatively new (let’s just say we didn’t have to worry about who was posting what on whose wall when I was younger), it isn’t always easy to know how we should behave. Here are some suggestions that can help keep your relationships healthy and happy in the social media age. 


·         Follow the same rules you would for speaking to someone in person.  This piece of advice can prevent you from saying something online you may regret later.  It’s easy to start talking or flirting with someone when all you have to see is your computer screen, but ask yourself:  Would I say this if this person was in front of me?  Would I say this in front of my significant other?  If the answer is no, you probably shouldn’t be typing it online either. 

·         Don’t use social media as a substitute for old-fashioned communication in your relationships. Instead of sitting and stewing over the comment someone left on your significant other’s page, wondering about the million things it could possibly mean, just ask!  Concerned about something your significant other said online?  Maybe you found it insulting?  Talk about it!  Don’t let social media communications confuse the real communication between you. The more you include one another, the better off you’ll be.   

·         Create social media boundaries.  Maybe you think it’s ok to be friends with an ex online, but maybe your significant other doesn’t.  Maybe you write about every spat and conversation you have, but your significant other wants to keep your relationship private.  Whatever the situation is, it’s important to discuss it as a couple.  What are the rules you want to play by?  Should you accept friend requests from an ex?  What can/should you be allowed to say about your current relationship? 

·         Stick to the rules.  In a vulnerable state or a moment of frustration, you may reach out to an ex or old flame out of spite or just to do some harmless chatting, but you may find yourself saying something inappropriate after a click or two. If you know you will be tempted, do not “friend” or reach out to these people.


In the age of social media, we have even more to consider when trying to keep our relationships healthy. If you are having trouble in a relationship because of something that happened online—whether it was an inappropriate conversation or a photo you never want to see again—think beyond the computer screen to the root causes of the problem.  Is there a lack of trust in your relationship?  Are there problems with how you communicate with one another?  Often times something that shows up in social media may be a part of a deeper issue you need to address. 


If you find yourself concerned for the health or happiness of your relationship, consider seeking support.  Take advantage of non-medical counseling through Military OneSource (800-342-9647) or your installation’s Family Advocacy Program.  Your Family Advocacy Program provides a wide range of activities designed to promote positive family relationships such as couples counseling and classes on effective communication, stress management and more. You can reach your local Family Advocacy Program by using MilitaryINSTALLATIONS. 


Remember, relationships take work, especially when deployments, separations and relocation can add to the stress of every day life.  By communicating, setting some social media rules and asking for help when you need it, you and your significant other can tackle anything!

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