Pastor Richard's Blog

The State of Marriage in the Age of Social Media

There is no question that the social media revolution has brought countless benefits with it.  It is easier now than ever before to keep in touch and communicate with friends and loved ones across thousands of miles.  Families can now feel close to one another even if they are separated by continents.  Of course, as has been well documented, not all the changes that social media has brought with it have been good.  In addition to things like online stalking and bullying, marriage counselors have become increasingly concerned about an unhealthy phenomenon that is becoming increasingly prevalent.  Counselors are seeing weeks and months of work to put a broken marriage back together undone in an instant by impulsive postings put on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites.  It has never been easier to rashly and publicly express a criticism, a frustration, or an irritation with a spouse.  And once these outbursts are online there is no taking them back.  Counselors are seeing efforts at reconciliation ruined in an instant by a thoughtless tweet.

To avoid becoming a statistic, let me encourage you to talk with your spouse about setting ground rules now (before they’re needed) that you both promise to uphold even through the rocky patches all marriages go.   Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Center and a faculty member in the Media Psychology program at Fielding Graduate University, offers these suggestions for social media users:

•    Identify your larger goals.  Before sending out a rash tweet, ask yourself what your larger goal is.  If you’re trying to heal a broken marriage, maintain cordial relationships with an ex for the benefit of children, or simply lower the stress level in your life, ask yourself if that tweet will help or harm those goals.

•    Evaluate your social media use.  Many of us swim around social media like a fish in water never considering the impact it may be having on us.  Yet, Enrich Canada has reported that 25% of cell phone owners in a committed relationship have felt their partner was distracted by their cell phone while together.  Further, 8% of internet users in a committed relationship reported having arguments with their partner about the amount of time one of them was spending online.  Indeed, Enrich Canada has reported on a Pew Research Center study, Couples, the Internet, and Social Media, which found that 20% of couples reported that internet use had had a mostly negative impact on their marriage.  This is just further evidence that we need to be intentional about our use of social media.  As Rutledge says, you should be the boss of your technology, not the other way around.

•    From time to time take a break from social media.  It’s important to “unplug” yourself occasionally and remind yourself what this feels like.  If you can’t do this, you may be heading towards a social media addiction that could cause problems for you down the road.

So much of life is about intentionality.  Each of us need to be intentional about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and who we’re doing it with.  Our social media use is no exception.  Let me encourage you to think through and develop rules around your social media use.  Don’t let it become a tool that the Evil One uses to harm the most important relationships in your life.

The Need For Approval from Children Isn't The Same As Love

Several years ago, when I was pastoring in Chicago, I was talking with a couple whose son had just been sent to prison for the second time.  In reflecting on their childrearing and what they had done right and wrong during their son’s formative years, they finally concluded, “I guess we just loved him too much.”  I didn’t say anything in response because I didn’t want to add to the already heavy load of guilt they were carrying.  I knew, however, that the problem was not that they had loved their son too much.  It’s impossible to love someone too much.  True love is freeing.  True love is empowering.  True love gives us the foundation of confidence and security we need to face all that life will throw at us.

No, the problem was not that this couple had loved their child too much.  The problem was that they hadn’t love him enough—at least not in the right away.  Had this couple had the insight needed for real reflection, they would have realized that the real problem had nothing to do with love but, rather, insecurity.  The problem was that they feared putting limits on their child.  They feared their child’s anger, their child’s disapproval, their child’s rejection.  So, rather than put limits on their son, they continually gave in to him thus preventing him from learning to put limits on himself.  This is not the pure love of a parent but a parent’s insecure need for approval masquerading as love.  In an article entitled, “Can We Love Our Children Too Much?”  Kenny Vaughan has said: “The reason we don’t want to hurt another’s feelings is rarely if ever about the other person.  Too many times parents fear getting hurt themselves by drawing their child’s disfavour.  We want to be our child’s good friend instead of the parent they need us to be.”  How true this is.  Our kids have enough friends but only (at most) two parents.  Be a parent to your kids, not a friend.

In his article, Vaughn suggests principles to help us love our children in healthy ways:

Be consistent; but let them win . . . sometimes.  Our kids need to know the boundaries of appropriate behaviour.  And there needs to be consistent consequences for crossing those boundaries.  This gives kids a sense of security.  It’s incredibly frustrating for a child to have no clear understanding of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.  This does not mean that we never make exceptions to rules.  A good parent always takes extenuating circumstances into consideration.  A teenage daughter missing a curfew because of unavoidable circumstances may need to be shown grace not judgment.  Still, boundaries need to be maintained and exceptions should be just that—exceptions.  

Discipline . . . with love.  We should never disciple our children out of anger.  Now, I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it.  We’re at our wit’s end and our child has just made one smart-alecky comment too many and we blow up.  This shows that even parents are human.  We’re human and we make mistakes.  Still, the goal of discipline should be to teach more than to punish.  The goal of discipline is to teach our children to do the right thing even when it hurts.  And this kind of teaching, this kind of discipline can never take place in a fit of anger.

Don’t do everything for your kids.  Vaughan writes: “The hardest part of parenting for me is wanting to do everything for my kids instead of making them get their own hands dirty.  It’s impossible for our children to grow emotionally and spiritually and to learn, if we do everything for them.”  This is a lesson my father taught me.  When I was a teenager, my dad owned a cottage on a piece of land which was partly surrounded by water.  One day, a big storm swept over this piece of land, leaving behind what looked like a thousand little stones and pebbles.  The morning after the storm Dad took me down there and asked me to pick up the rocks.  “But Dad,” I said, “there are so many; I don’t know where to begin.”   Dad’s succinct response has never left me: “Son,” he said, “start with one rock.”  I did and several hours later all the stones were picked up.  I’ve never forgotten this lesson and it has served me well in pastoral ministry.

The Bible speaks of the kind of love we’ve been talking about: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).

There are never any guarantees when it comes to raising children.  I have seen the most dysfunctional families produce amazingly balanced children and absolutely wonderful parents raise troubled children.  When, however, we put our kids’ long-term best interests over our own insecurities and need for approval, we stand the best chance of raising children who will grow into balanced adults and contributing members of society.  And isn’t that the goal of parenting?