Over the past couple of years there has been a new trend developing in online communications. No, it’s not the use of Twitter or Facebook, although those two technologies are a huge trend that is sweeping the country.
The new trend actually has more to do with using an old technology in a new way. Electronic mail (e-mail) has been around for a long time and it would be hard to find anybody nowadays under the age of 65 who doesn’t have at least one email account.
Email has fundamentally changed our world, both in our personal lives as well as in our businesses. However, as is often the case with technology, it can be a double-edged sword. Because of the inherent privacy built into having your own personal email account, a new type of “affair” has evolved. By traditional definition, an affair has meant an intimate physical relationship with another who is not your spouse.
However, email, and the Internet in general, has created a new type of affair. This type of affair could happen between two people who live thousands of miles apart and maybe haven’t even actually met, yet they have grown emotionally attached through intimate conversation and the sharing of very personal information.
There are those who will argue that this is simply a form of friendship, there has been no betrayal. Yet, if the act of having sex with someone who is not your spouse is bad, but a highly intimate and emotional relationship with someone who is not your spouse is OK, then I think the bigger point is being missed.
I submit that by definition the act of having sex is as much an emotional and intimate experience as it is a physical one, and I would also argue that it is this intimacy and emotional connection of sex that is the root of the feeling of betrayal.
Therefore, if someone has an intimate, emotional relationship with someone other than his or her spouse, even if sex is not involved, it is still the same type of betrayal.
This brings us back to the new trend in email accounts.
In an effort to show total confidence in the online communications between spouses and their friends, couples are starting to share email accounts.
Many couples have started sharing accounts simply as a way to consolidate all electronic bills or online statement communications, however over time they have grown to appreciate the “built-in safety net” of the idea.
The temptation of an online affair with someone over the internet still exists, and someone who is determined to cheat will still cheat, but sometimes the simple knowledge that someone else might easily see the communication you are sending out helps keep honest people honest. But the real value seems to be just the confidence that there doesn’t appear to be any secrets.
James Furrow, a professor of marital and family therapy at Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in California, said sharing an account can be helpful if the goal is promoting openness. But he said the practice can hurt a relationship if it’s meant “as an act of deterrence.”
“We can take steps to manage our behavior, but then the problem with that is it begins to become the emphasis rather than the trust of giving the other the benefit of the doubt,” Furrow said. “What you end up with is the doubt.”
While this approach to openness in marriage may seem trivial and ineffective to some, for others who are proactively looking for ways to strengthen their marriage relationships, the idea is one that is starting to spread throughout marriage support groups like Focus on the Family and the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education (CMFCE).