Too much ping can rob a marriage of zing

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Social media is known to bring people together, connecting people separated by time, geography and vocation. But it has a flipside. It can break marriages apart.

Raghav Shetty and Smitha (names changed) got married not too long ago. He has an extremely demanding job and gets “pings” on WhatsApp all the time, even at home. To Smitha’s intense annoyance.

In fact, the couple (they are friends of a friend), who live in Bengaluru, fight over this frequently. Her grouse is that he is always checking his WhatsApp messages. He contends that these are work messages that he cannot ignore. More often, they end up at an impasse.

In Coimbatore, another couple is also having problems. Preeti and Navin Patel (names changed) are also going through a rough patch. Preeti suspects that Navin is having an “affair” with an old girlfriend he reconnected with on Facebook. These days, Navin constantly checks his phone, is always distracted and never has time for Preeti. He also doesn’t let his phone out of his sight. Why, he even takes it into the bathroom when he has a shower.

Likes and Old Loves

Social media and messaging platforms have invaded these urban couples’ homes. And taken over their lives. Just as it has mine. And yours.

In fact, today, it is believed that social media addiction is one of main modern-day threats to marital stability. For one, couples are simply too tied to their phones/smart devices (because of work mostly), to even talk to and spend time with one another, offline.

Affairs can be sexual, emotional or both. So, any relationship outside marriage that involves emotional intimacy, even without sex, can be considered infidelity, says an expert.

Facebook helps you reconnect with old lovers. And there’s nothing clandestine about it anymore because FB doesn’t discriminate between friends, foes and old flames. They are all “Friends”, after all. So what could possibly be misconstrued if you message a Friend 10 times a day, or till late at night? Even if he or she is a ‘special’ Friend. And messaging apps (applications) like WhatsApp add to the flirtatious fun. Because, now you don’t need to create fake identities or log on to ‘cheating websites’ such as Ashley Madison, to meet up offline. If it is hooking-up you are after, just swipe right on Tinder. Or send heart emojis on WhatsApp. Or a ‘like’ on Facebook.

As Chennai-based relationships-consultant and psychiatrist Dr. Vijay Nagaswami points out, social media is now a major cause of marital discord, worldwide and in India. Dr Nagaswami tells me that couples come to him (for counselling) in “large numbers” because of this. “This phenomenon has been happening ever since we became net-savvy,” he says.

The good doctor sees so much of this happening that he has discussed social media and (marital) subterfuge in his book 3’s A Crowd: Understanding and Surviving Infidelity.

Is an online affair actually cheating?

Today, this opening-up of our horizons has also led to interesting debates on what constitutes an ‘affair’. Why, Psychology Today actually has articles that list out the signs and symptoms of online affairs, >for instance.

So, is Navin actually cheating on his spouse (after all, he is only chatting/messaging his ex). They are yet to actually meet. Can emotional and mental intimacy with a former lover constitute a betrayal? Is that to be considered infidelity?

Dr. Nagaswami believes it is. He stresses: “Affairs can be sexual, emotional or combined [sexual and emotional]. So, any relationship outside the marriage that involves emotional intimacy, even if sex doesn’t happen (what I describe as the ‘soulmate affair’ in my book) does constitute infidelity. An unhappy marriage doesn’t justify infidelity, for there are better ways to deal with marital disharmony,” he says.

Social media and messaging platforms have invaded these urban couples’ homes. And taken over their lives. Just as it has mine. And yours.

So, how can you and I navigate this extremely personal and all-pervasive minefield that is the social media? It is now so entrenched in our lives that it takes just a tap on a touch screen to be "tempted" into contacting an ex (lover/friend).

For a healthy marriage, “fidelity and transparency are critical,” says Dr. Nagaswami. So, does the answer lie in sharing passwords (with the spouse)? Or not password-protecting our smartphones? Or in simply trusting each other?

Raghav knows he must consciously and deliberately carve out time to spend with his spouse Smita in order to make his marriage work. But in Preeti and Navin’s case, things are tougher. Navin refuses to address the issue at all, and gets aggressive if Preeti tries to broach the topic. So she does not know what to do.

You could say their relationship is at a stalemate now.

Thing is, when it comes to relationships — online and offline — you really don’t need an outsider to judge or analyse your behaviour.

Because most of the time, you will, in your heart of hearts, know instinctively when you are crossing a line.

And because there is such a thing as choice.

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