Powder Keg

Posted on December 4, 2014


With Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, and such, many married people have had the experience of being contacted by an old flame who “just wanted to see how you were doing.”  Or you may have been the one doing the contacting.  This usually results in FB messages, texts, and email exchanges.  Then your partner finds out about it and is upset.  You assure your partner that there is nothing to the relationship you are just connecting as friends.

One of the fun things about a blog is I can dispense the advice I would like to in therapy, but don’t.  I am not in the business of telling clients what they need to do.  I can highlight the dangers and where something is causing a problem in your life.  We can explore what that other relationship means to you.  We can talk about what you and your partner see as appropriate boundaries with members of the opposite sex.  We can explore the need for transparency in a marriage.

But here, I can just say it, “Don’t.”  Or like Nancy Reagan’s War on Drugs slogan, “Just say, ‘no.’”  Contact with an old flame for a married person is a powder keg.  If a spark hits that thing your life and the lives of those near you will be blown to bits.

First, a good rule of thumb is that if you have to hide it, you probably ought not do it.  Assuming the conversations were innocuous, the secrecy will do way more damage than the actual contact.  From Watergate to Whitewater to Martha Stewart, it is always the cover-up that gets you.  This is true in marriage as well; lies and secrecy usually do the most damage.

Second, you are opening the door for a competing attachment.  If you start sharing your deepest feelings with a member of the opposite sex who is not your spouse, you are giving something away that should really belong to your partner.  Worse yet is when your old flame becomes your sounding board for issues in your marriage.

Third, the (potential) affair partner always has an advantage over the spouse.  You may feel taken for granted at home while the other person thinks you’re great.  You don’t have to deal with bills, grocery shopping, parenting, laundry, housework, or in-laws with the other person.  It is easy for the other person to look desirable when you do not have to live with him or her.  You start thinking, “What if?”

Fourth, memory has a funny way of rose-tinting things.  You may now be remembering the good things about the old flame and forgetting the problems that caused you to break-up.  Or perhaps you remember the problems but feel that you are both older and wiser now so they would not be an issue.  Or maybe you were the dumpee and now the other person has seen the error of his or her ways.

A 2011 British legal service survey (cited by New York Daily News http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/facebook-ruining-marriage-social-network-named-divorce-filings-2011-article-1.1083913) found that Facebook was cited in one third of divorce cases.  A survey from the University of Texas at Austin found that users of social media were twice as likely to have seriously considered leaving their spouses as those who do not use social media (http://www.wtop.com/256/3662289/Study-Facebook-affects-divorce-rates-marital-satisfaction).

To my thinking, this is not as much an indictment of social media as it is how people are using it.  I happen to find Facebook very useful, but I would not put anything on it that I would not be willing to have strangers as well as friends see or read (including messages and writing on someone’s wall).[1]  My word to the wise is that if you are married and receive a friend request from your high school sweetheart, don’t accept it.  You really don’t want to be sitting on top of that much explosive.  You really don’t.

[1] You can actually learn more about my life by reading my blog than by looking at my Facebook page.