WHAT TO DO WHEN ONLINE ACTIVITY AFFECTS YOUR OFFLINE RELATIONSHIPS

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As social media enthusiasts, we often forget that we live in a different type of world than everyone else. We might be more keen to open up to strangers and share our feelings with people we don’t know. It’s the world we’re living in — for us, at least, and it will continue as we spread these ideas to our peers and colleagues, all of whom will likely slowly open up to this world in due time. All paths will ultimately lead to here whether or not these “outsiders” have chosen to accept it yet.

I can empathize with the holdouts. I have family members who are really confused with how omnipresent I seem online, but at the end of the day, they take pride in that. My uncle knows a young girl from his community, a recent college graduate, who is looking for a social media job. When she found out I was his niece, she became ecstatic. I told her to reach out and I embraced the opportunity to help her. (If you’re hiring for entry level in NYC, let me know and I’ll pass on her info!). Meanwhile, I did my uncle proud. Social media is about helping one another and building real strong friendships, usually around a certain interest or activity.

This is what we should be here for. And I’ve been doing it for seventeen years now while still being able to get married, have a family, and not let any of these online interactions affect my personal life. (I do have one!) It comes from a real trust with your partner. It comes from a mutual understanding of each other and our true commitments to our real-life interactions.

Those of you who read Techipedia regularly know that I won’t add you as a Facebook friend if I don’t know you. Not yet, at least. I’ll open up to you after we meet face to face or after a lengthy mutual friendship online. I understand that some people might have similar reservations. I guess it’s assumed in social spaces that when s/he initiates the friend request, you can comment on anything on their Facebook wall or tweet back at them about something personal or even comment on a photo.

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Unfortunately, there may occasionally be times when one’s significant other has difficulty appreciating his/her partner’s engagement online. A combination of distrust and insecurity can cause extreme discomfort both online and in real life. When that starts to impact the “social” peers online who do not mean any harm, nothing can be expressed except disappointment. Sadly, sometimes an online “friend” becomes embroiled completely unnecessarily in the middle of what seems like serious marital issues.

There’s a real lesson from this experience. If your partner isn’t comfortable yet with your social media involvement, all hope is not lost. There are things you can do to rediscover why you really married or committed to one another. Here are five steps you can take:

Review

In a committed relationship, if there is any hint of disagreement in the social space, it’s time to sit down and look at one another’s social networks. Go through each individual account and set guidelines where you both can agree to what you feel comfortable revealing online. Given that social networks are, in fact, social, it should be mutually understood that “outsiders” unknown to the partner may comment on status updates or posted photos or comments. Unless the comments are not appropriate, no offense should be taken at all by the other person.

Set Boundaries

I don’t know all of the people my husband knows. I don’t know all of the people my father knows. (I can say right now that I know all of the people my 14-month son knows, but not for long! 😉 ) In a trusting relationship, you should understand that you may not know everyone in each other’s network but you should trust that you respect each other’s ability to create personal boundaries. Unless there are excuses being made and your significant other is not being attentive to your family’s needs (and perhaps is even out late at night on a regular basis, indicating something else entirely), don’t read too much into what’s going on online. (“Liking” a comment isn’t malicious. Really.)

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Communicate

Usually, committed offline relationships arise from being good communicators in “real life.” In the online world, you might be able to have a great relationship through digital chatter, but it may never amount to anything in the real world. I’ve had relationships online that have been completely awkward in person. I’m married to a guy I can’t even chat with online. 😉

If you ever see something on your partner’s profile or social network that makes you uncomfortable, it’s your duty to stay committed to your relationship and to address it with your partner offline. Try to stay calm and collected when you do so. This relationship deals with two equal partners, and they need to be equally involved and committed. Involving the third individual who is a friend to one partner and a stranger to another puts them in an awkward position, especially when there was no harm done. Communicate with your partner and no one else.

Understand Your Role

I use social media both personally and professionally. Your mileage may vary. If you’re reading this, you’re probably using social media professionally and personally as well. If either parter is using social media professionally and you’re not, respect their need to do so and keep your distance. Social media is used for work by millions of people and this number is only growing. If my actively engaged social media colleague James posts a photo of his young son Harold on his Facebook page, James might expect comments by me and other peers who may not know the mother of that child. His wife Penny should respect that there’s no harm being done if I say that Harold is a real cutie. Likewise, if James sings praise about Penny on his wall, his colleague Victoria might thumb up the comment. Why? She’s happy to hear that he loves his wife. Penny should relish this attention by Victoria and not take offense to it.

If you’re using social media in a personal capacity, do simple gut checks like discussing which photos are appropriate to post on your Facebook wall. If you’re blogging in a personal capacity, ask permission before going forth with it. A big factor of this is regular communication, so be sure to make sure nobody feels uncomfortable with any personal broadcast.

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Get Help

If you’ve sat down and spoken at length about this issue, and yet there’s still too much discomfort where she does not seem to embrace your active social media lifestyle, despite the fact that it is what you do for a living, it’s time to speak to someone else. Perhaps you can confide in a friend who has been there. Perhaps you can confide in the help of a licensed therapist who can give you more guidance and work out what may amount to be serious trust issues.

If you’re oversharing, or if you’re not comfortable at all with what is being shared, and direct communication is failing, you might also want to consider talking to someone offline.

Don’t go out and confront the people you feel uncomfortable with with guns blazing, especially when you haven’t met them and don’t understand the online space. Online friends are still people even if the place of meeting just happened online.

Relationships of all levels of commitment exist online and offline. Who you see every day face-to-face should be the person you’re most committed to, and there should be a mutual understanding of this. If there’s any doubt at all, you should address all insecurities since the long term viability of your relationship might be at stake. Don’t involve the colleagues who did not mean any harm. It just exacerbates the situation and makes things very uncomfortable for all parties, including the third wheel who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A deep understanding and full support of your partner’s activities online and off will translate to a long and happy relationship. If one party feels uncomfortable that the other is too “open” online, it’s important to sit down and follow these aforementioned steps to rectify any insecurities to create a beautiful and fruitful relationship.

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