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Face-sook: an open secret?

Date

Luke Malone

Giving too much away ... did your friends know about the break-up before you did?

Giving too much away ... did your friends know about the break-up before you did?

We've all been witness to it, a relationship that you realise is going to end before the individuals themselves seem to know. This has only gotten easier with Facebook. You notice your friend's status updates turning more personal and embittered, and then, after a few more weeks of passive-aggressive over-sharing, "Sally is single" suddenly crops up on your feed.

Back in the day, you would receive word of a troubled relationship one-on-one via a teary telephone call or on your couch after a shared bottle of wine. Now people are turning to social media in growing numbers, publically purging themselves of relationship anxieties as if every one of their contacts is a friend in the traditional sense. Which often just exacerbates the problem.

"My policy is to never be negative on a social networking platform. There is so much scope for interpretation when we write a text only post, and meanings can be misconstrued," said Nicole Greentree, CEO and founder of Empower Social Media. "With more and more conversations being had online and in public forums, a level of etiquette should be adhered to. There will always be those that like to have a Face-sook, but I don't believe it's of any value. Even if it is in a private group, there is always a chance that someone can do a screen capture of your comment and spread it through their networks."

Beyond providing a cringe-worthy international platform for you to air your dirty laundry, the way you navigate social media can also have unintended consequences – especially when it comes to couples with children.

"The big thing that we're finding in our mediation programs is that the kids are reading those posts," said Relationship Australia Victoria spokesperson Sue Yorston. "We've had some very distressed children because their mum and dad might think that the kids don't know what's going on and are not affected by it. We know that they are. People don't seem to realise that when you use these sites in this way it's out in the ether forever."

Social media itself can also be the root cause of the problem. A recent survey by Relationships Australia, headed by Yorston, showed that an increasing number of people are reporting issues surrounding the use of social media and related technology in counselling sessions. A total of 120 practitioners took part in the questionnaire and 80 per cent reported seeing clients who cited the impact of Facebook on their relationship as a primary concern.

"The idea of this survey came about because our practitioners started getting people coming in who were saying a major issue in their relationship is the use of social media," said Yorston. "There's been a lot of discussion around virtual affairs. Years ago we would have talked about people suddenly working back late. Now a flag is raised when someone walks into a room and their partner's laptop is quickly closed."

While the possibility of reconnecting with old flames via Facebook or Twitter has seen a rise in the number of people pursuing extramarital affairs, at least anecdotally, the connection doesn't need to be physical for it to cause conflict.

"There's a lack of understanding around the idea of engaging with somebody on Facebook. An individual might not feel as if they're having an affair and it has nothing to do with their real relationship. But for the person that's excluded, there are issues around trust and feeling violated," she said. "Whether the affair is real, as in physical, or virtual, its impact on the relationship is as devastating in each situation. If you're looking at the emotional investment in that virtual affair, it's taking from the other person's relationship. It's emotional cheating."

Part of the appeal, says Yorston, comes down to control. In the case of reconnecting with an ex or old friend, not only do we tend to focus on pleasant memories and discard the bad, we have an opportunity to present ourselves in the best possible light.

"The relationship is one-dimensional," she said. "This other person isn't seeing you getting up in the morning all grumpy or coming home and kicking the cat because you had a bad day or someone spent the credit card money. An online relationship is what you want it to be. That can be quite enticing."

Yorston says the best way to prevent social media from becoming an issue in a relationship is to refrain from making your private fights public and conduct yourself in a transparent way. While some couples share passwords to avoid temptation, those who prefer a healthy dose of autonomy should look at their behaviour objectively if they think they've crossed a line.

"If you have something on your computer that you want to keep from someone then that's a challenge for you," she said. "Look at why that's there and ask yourself, What am I doing here? If you wouldn't be comfortable with your partner looking at it then maybe that's a bit of a flag for you."

Keep it together

Nicole Greentree, CEO and founder of Empower Social Media, shares some tips to take into consideration when mixing relationships and social media:

* Be open with your partner about who you are networking with.

* Be respectful to your partner and spend quality time together, without having to update your status.

* Discuss with your partner whether they are comfortable if you share information about them, including their name, photos, activities etc.

* Don't keep secrets from your partner and express them online. It is a public space, and it's likely they will find out.

7 comments

  • Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep, if you can't do it in front of your partner, then you probably shouldn't be doing it.

    Unless if you both had some sort of agreement that you're entitled to keeping -secrets- from each other.

    Commenter
    Jill
    Location
    psychedelia
    Date and time
    May 17, 2012, 2:37PM
    • While I agree with what this article is saying, especially in terms of what advice it gives, it does make me wonder why this advice has to be given ? Oh yes, thats right, because some people seem to not know how to keep their private life private.

      Commenter
      D_Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 17, 2012, 2:37PM
      • I don't facebook my problems i face my problems.

        Also, I don't see the need to broadcast it on the internet as well as many things. I keep it simple.

        I heard someone say once, don't post on the internet what you wouldn't want on the front page news.
        Once it is there it is there for good.

        :)

        Commenter
        Katie
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        May 17, 2012, 5:45PM
        • Some people seem to use Facebook as an sms service, forgetting that everyone they've ever met can read it. And nobody cares that it's your 26 month anniversary.

          If you've done something interesting, or have something interesting to say by all means post it. Otherwise, keep it to yourself.

          Commenter
          Maggie
          Date and time
          May 17, 2012, 8:35PM
          • I agree with what the article is saying about the scope for interpretation. It reminds me of a single action of one can have so different interpretation from others, which is similar to what happened last week when I walked into a book-store for a while, then walked back to the front desk and picked up the first book I looked at, the sales lady did the scan and assumed I would buy it, but the fact was not, I just looked up for the publisher info. for printing purpose. (this is my own experience & opinion, if you do not like it, please skip to the next comment.)

            Commenter
            sa
            Location
            nsw
            Date and time
            May 18, 2012, 12:02AM
            • Its' going to end badly for a lot more people yet. This narcissistic obsession to disclose something, anything, everything, will result in the kind of public emotional carnage you could sell ticket to.

              Commenter
              reality bites
              Location
              Sydney
              Date and time
              May 18, 2012, 8:39AM
              • So we should only post happy-go-lucky comments about how wonderful our lives are? Gee, that seems geniune.

                Look i'll be honest, there's nothing I dislike more than reading the same whiney comments (usually from the same whiney people)

                But Social Networking should be about freedom of expression and if you're having a crap day or something crap happened to you and you want to moan about it - fine do it on facebook.

                I think its unrealistic to tell people not to express the full scale of their emotions on Facebook, because that's the only way it will be a genuine discourse of connections between friends.

                If you're "worried" about how something you post on facebook will be "received" then perhaps you should reconsider the "friends" on your list and whether or not they are GENUINE friends.

                Commenter
                Adrian
                Location
                Sydney
                Date and time
                May 18, 2012, 10:56AM
                Comments are now closed
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