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Navigating the Digital World When in a Committed Relationship

BY JEN MAKIN, CMHC


First off, full disclosure moment: I’ve been off of social media for 5 years. Not one click. OK, I guess my blog is social media, but you understand my point.


No TikkingToks

No Snapping Chats

No Books of Faces

No Grams of Insta

No Tubes of You


None.


This choice was not some moral conquest where I stand from my holier than thou mountaintop and judge others. It was simply a choice due the amount of time I was allowing myself to get sucked into the noise and dark holes scrolling. My brain needed a break.


In 2017, started with the commitment of a week off of social media and never looked back.


One more item of transparency. To know all of me, you would know I’m more like Jennifer Lawrence’s character from Silver Linings Playbook than any other character I’ve viewed on the big screen. Her grit, her in your face manner of speech and overall poor boundaries was my young Jenny self; Jen in the making.


I love all parts of myself and embrace who I was as she is still authentically me. Because of these patterns of behavior, I became addicted to social media and although sober from alcohol and other unbecoming vices I had dipped too deeply into cyber space and I was losing myself in the process.


When I scrolled through, my body and mind had the same feeling as if I had just taken a shot. The slow burn was the scrolling. I was hooked. A thousand clicks were never enough and one was too many.


NOTICING


I had jumped off social media when Trump was first running for president. I found it to be too decisive and politically charged then. Although I've been grounded on planet earth, my imagination allows me to understand what cyber space must be like today.


With cyber space, up is down and down is up. What I mean by this is behavior that we would not do outside of a click, we are more likely to do online. Whether it’s bullying or basking, it’s easier to be someone we are not from behind a screen.


SOCIAL MEDIA BOUNDARIES


I am acquainted with the old adage, “I’m married but not blind.” Which basically means that, even as a married person, you can identify someone as nice looking. Granted this neutral notice may be harmless but when online deep diving into their social space it can cross the line into violation to any committed relationship.


I tend to be very tight with my boundaries. When my husband and I first got to know each other in 2001 we discussed boundaries. We talked about boundaries before they were popular.


My husband was much more conservative with them than I was and I often rolled my eyes (think Silver Linings) as I didn’t see the big deal with a harmless interaction with a male peer while in between classes. Yes, I had lunch with him. But I was powerless, he came and sat with me. What did soon-to-be-Hubs want me to do?


Turns out, he wanted me to set a verbal boundary. Ask this male peer to sit elsewhere. And if he didn’t move from the table, soon-to-be-Hubs requested that I should set a physical boundary and move away.


To say I felt controlled is an understatement.


Who did he think he was?


It’s my body.


I can choose.


I can sit with whoever the hell I wanted. Period.


Then he said something that still rings in my ears today, “Jen, if a woman sat at my table, would you want me to engage with her? Talk to her? Laugh with her?”


Hell to the no.


But that was different. 


PHYSICAL BOUNDARIES


How it was different I wasn’t able to quite put my finger on at that moment. But I was convinced at that time that it was. 


22 years later, we both now hold those boundaries.


I remember when I began doing marketing for One By One. Hubs and I adhered to the boundary that we don’t drive in vehicles or take rides from the opposite sex. As I dipped my feet into the business development world, I made my boundaries known far and wide.


I got criticism from more than one person. 


“Jen, that’s rigid. It’s work. It’s not a date.”

“Good luck making it in this world without ever being alone with a man.”

“Ummm… Jen, that’s not how it works.”


But would you believe that even though it’s “not” a date, it sure would feel close to one.


✅ Meal

✅ Being alone

✅ Riding in a vehicle together


And screaming my boundaries from My mountaintop did work for me. Because I never shifted my standards not because my husband controlled me into them, but because I finally understood that me doing this allowed me to show him that our marriage was special and sacred to me. We honored one another and it showed in our conduct. 


Interestingly enough, the people I connected the most with in the space of marketing held the same boundaries that I did. They honored their committed relationships the same. So when I set my boundaries, it was an easy connection. Business was handled much more efficiently and effortlessly because we were on the same page.


ONLINE BOUNDARIES


Now to tackle online boundaries.


The same idea of physical boundaries: if you wouldn’t do it in the light, don’t do it in the dark.


Meaning, if you wouldn’t do something in the light of day (in person) then don’t do it in the dark (on the web late at night).


I work with many women whose marriages began to unravel due to an “innocent” online discussion. Through various communication platforms, things got sideways fast.


Leaning on or turning to anyone outside of your commuted relationship can quickly turn into an emotional affair. 


I also don’t believe that married people should turn to friends or loved ones in this way either.


When facing a relationship crisis, go for drive. Take a bath. Do your nails and watch a Disney movie. Do not call your sister, mom, best friend (or all three) to relationship trauma dump. It's not fair to the relationship or to them.


I don’t believe that women should dump things on their mothers. Once you leave the nest, it’s not appropriate for these relationships to continue the way they were. Boundaries must shift and your priority needs to be your husband. If you have beef with Hubs, work yourselves out.


I’m not saying don’t have friends. I have so many friends and I feel very blessed. I’m saying, if you have an issue with your husband, don’t discuss it with co-workers at happy hour. Don't blog about it or put it on your Book or Faces in some lengthy post that you'll most like delete once you've done one of the above mentioned things.


Discuss it with him directly. 


Don’t post online about it.

Don’t bash him.

Don’t speak ill of him.

Don’t name call him. 


Now obviously if someone is facing abuse or some kind of challenge, reach out to appropriate people and get help. Always.


But otherwise, keep the relationship healthy by communicating with one another. Most of the affairs that I work with started online.


Chatting.

Catching up.

Flirting.

Turning to someone else for support outside of your marriage.


The key factor is, just like that day at the mall when my husband emptied his bank account to put a silver band on my finger which meant “be mine only” right after hearing about my not-so-date with a male peer in beteeen classes, we must treat the other person as we would want to be treated. Golden Rule still holds true.


If you wouldn’t want him following steamy influencers then you don’t.


If you don’t want her going to lunch with her male boss, then you don’t take the new marketing hire to dinner.


If you don’t want him scrolling someone else’s feed, then don’t scroll others.


I know. I am rigid. But this is my blog and I’m allowed to speak my truth. And if you don’t like it, you’re free to read someone else’s blog. 


What I can say is I have been married to the same man for 21 years. He’s the love of my life and we respect one another as best as we can all of the time. We aren’t perfect.


Perfect is boring. But we are both very passionate people and feel safe within our union because the boundaries are set and we trust one another. We can be our best selves because there are limits allowing us to grow and become our best selves.


As a result of our example of both Hubs and myself not being on social media, our children aren’t either. And they are teens and young adults. Ripe for the picking for dating apps and deep dives into other people’s online intimates. 


I have never outwardly trashed social media. I just simply was honest with the impact it had on me. I’m addicted to dopamine dumps. Long Island Ice Tea or scrolling equals the same high. 


TUNE UP


Not everyone has the luxury of setting up boundaries properly at the beginning of their relationship. Especially when you’re clearly not on the same page. 


But as my husband said, “Would you want me to do that?” If you wouldn’t care if your husband went to lunch with another woman, perhaps I’m not your cup of tea.


The How To’s:


Open up the conversation by taking accountability.


It could sound something like this:


"I realize that I didn’t understand boundaries very well when we first got together. As I’ve come to understand them better, I think our relationship needs a tune up."


Something like that…


Then invite.


"Do you think we could have a discussion soon about these things? I want to make sure we are on the same page and that we both feel safe in the relationship."


If NO:


OK, I understand. Would you be open to thinking it over and getting back to me?


If it continues to be a NO, you may need to consider other boundaries for yourself.


If YES:


OK, when works for you? Would you prefer a public or private space to discuss it?


Bottom line is, if the relationship is healthy, boundaries can be re-negotiated at any point. My husband and I constantly do. And I mean constantly.


Even when we disagree, we give the other person time or space to think it over.


THE EXCUSES


  • I’m following him because his workouts are amazing 

  • She has great fitness content and my health has improved

  • I use his page at work, what do you want me to do about it?

  • You’re controlling. I’m allowed to call someone hot if I want to. 


These excuses are just that. An unjustified reason to shirk accountability. Your relationship deserves respect and if your partner is uncomfortable with an action, they have the right to feel heard. They are free to identify their truth and speak it out loud.


You don't have to "give examples" offering some sort of measured proof that justifies how you feel. If you don't feel safe, speak up. Re-negotiate until you both are comfortable moving forward.


FOOD FOR THOUGHT:


It’s your responsibility to negotiate the boundaries in your relationship. 


But it’s important to identify if you would want the same treatment toward you in whatever you’re proposing.


Be honest with yourself and identify the sacrifices that you’re willing to make. If you’re unable to see your life without social media, don’t expect your significant other to drop theirs. 


The adage: “Do as I say, not as I do” is flawed. Who you are teaches people. So identify what you’re teaching others about yourself and your relationship. 


Will they leave an interaction with you believing that you honor your marriage? Honor yourself? Respect boundaries?


Maybe start with a tune up for yourself before you reach out to anyone else.


When someone shows you who they are, believe them. Even with yourself. You have the power to change you. Start there

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May 17, 2023

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