- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2010

Using Facebook to track down “old flames” isn’t a good idea for husbands or wives, but they need not flee from the popular social networking site either, marriage experts say.

Pastors are in a position to empower people to thrive amid modern social media, marriage educators K. Jason and Kelli Krafsky said in a recent blog, called “Should Pastors Really Ban Facebook?”

“The more church members know how to safely use online communities, the less likely they are to make the mistakes and bad choices that destroy marriages and break families apart. We’re pretty sure that is something God would ‘Like,’ don’t you?” wrote the Krafskys, who are authors of “Facebook and Your Marriage.”

The news peg for their blog was a New Jersey pastor’s recent sermon urging the married leaders in his church to permanently disconnect from Facebook or step down from their posts.

“I’ve been in extended counseling with couples with marital problems because of Facebook for the last year and a half,” the Rev. Cedric Miller, senior pastor of the Living Word Christian Fellowship Church in Neptune, N.J., told Associated Press.

At least 20 couples in his 1,100-member congregation had developed marital problems after a spouse connected with an old flame via Facebook, explained Mr. Miller, who is married.

“What happens is someone from yesterday surfaces, it leads to conversations and there have been physical meet-ups. The temptation is just too great,” he told AP, adding that he had created a Facebook account to keep up with his children, but canceled it.

Mr. Miller also said he asked married couples with Facebook accounts to at least give each other their passwords so they could check on private conversations.

“Some did. Others got scared and deleted their accounts right away. And some felt it was none of my business and continued on,” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Miller was recently embarrassed when the Asbury Park Press — which broke the story about his no-Facebook edict — reported that Mr. Miller, his wife and another married couple in the church had sexual contact 10 years ago.

Mr. Miller said he and the others dealt with that “very painful” transgression, received forgiveness, and he would step down if church leaders deemed he was unfit to serve. He maintained his stance on Facebook, which he described as too many people’s “portal to infidelity.”

On Nov. 24, Mr. Miller told reporters in New Jersey he was “taking some time off.” The Rev. Linda Parreott said during Sunday services that Mr. Miller had received a vote of confidence from church elders and would return to his post after a 90-day sabbatical.

Facebook is, indeed, a fact of life for many American adults.

As of August 2009, it was the most-popular site among adults who used the Internet for social networking — 73 percent had a Facebook account, compared with 48 percent with a MySpace profile or 14 percent with a LinkedIn account, according to Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher with Pew Internet and American Life Project at Pew Research Center.

While 89 percent of adults said they used their online profiles to “stay in touch with friends,” 20 percent said they used it “to flirt,” Ms. Lenhart said in a 2009 presentation.

That flirting can ignite some really big problems, said psychologist Dave Carder, author of “Torn Asunder: Recovering From Extramarital Affairs” and “Close Calls: What Adulterers Want You to Know About Protecting Your Marriage.”

“Old flames” are people with whom there is an already-formed romantic attachment. So if someone is struggling in their marriage and encounters a previous love, the infatuation is already stored in one’s brain, Mr. Carder explained to The Washington Times in 2009.

“The saying in my field is, ‘Thirty days of regular contact with an old girlfriend/old boyfriend and you create an infatuation explosion. And in 30 more days, you will find a way to be with each other,’” he said.

Mr. Carder is a counseling pastor at the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, Calif. Like Mr. Miller in New Jersey, Mr. Carder has seen social networks create many marital meltdowns. But Mr. Carder’s response was to help schedule the Krafskys to present five sessions about using Facebook at the Fullerton church in January.

The goal is to get clergy and people “really savvy” about Facebook, so they can understand how to prevent problems, “rather than do the knee-jerk reaction like the New Jersey pastor did,” Mr. Krafsky said in late November.

Some of the Krafskys’ basic advice for husbands and wives:

• Share online names and passwords with each other.

• Generally avoid live chats with people of the opposite sex.

• Avoid and/or refuse to be online friends with former lovers.

• Don’t air “dirty laundry” about one’s spouse or marriage on the site.

• Strike an agreement on time issues — how much and when.

The Krafskys’ advice about not “friending” former lovers stems from personal experience. Years ago, these happily married spouses had casually friended their “exes” while keeping each other informed.

“But then one day Kelli came down and said, ‘Hey, guess who I just friended on Facebook?’ And I said, ‘Who?’ And it was, ‘My first love!’” Mr. Krafsky said.

To their surprise, Mrs. Krafsky began having a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings while Mr. Krafsky felt pangs of anxiety and jealousy.

“It was a trip down memory lane … and, like the experts say, all of a sudden you get this rush of feelings and emotions; it’s almost like it’s a drug, so to speak,” said Mrs. Krafsky. “And you [only] recall the happy, good memories. You don’t necessarily recall why you broke up, why you got that person out of your life.”

The couple said they spent weeks analyzing and resolving the issue — “We came to the conclusion that having Facebook friendships with exes wasn’t good for our marriage,” said Mr. Krafsky.

But they were struck by how many issues it raised, and how quickly spouses can be blindsided by such a reconnection.

“Obviously, we’ve got [marriage education] tools in our pocket about how to communicate and work through it,” said Mrs. Krafsky. “But we were like, oh my gosh, if that could happen to us, and we’re pretty proactive in our marriage, I can’t even imagine what’s going on out there in the real world.”

The couple, married 14 years with four children, released their book on Facebook and marriage earlier this year.

Their goal is “to be where technology and relationships meet, and empower people to strike that balance well,” said Mr. Krafsky, adding he and his wife have an online page for their book and a new “social media couple” site — both on Facebook, of course.

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