Q: I recently discovered that my wife has connected with an old flame through Facebook. She keeps telling me it's not a big deal, but I think it is. Do I have a right to be angry and to tell her not to talk to this guy?
Juli: This has become one of those gray areas that aren't exactly seen as "cheating." As innocent as it may seem to reconnect with a high school sweetheart, it's a recipe for disaster and it can devastate trust in marriage.
The deeper motivation behind connecting with someone from the past is to flirt with the question, "What if?" It's the stuff romantic comedies are made of. What if I had chosen differently? Would my life be any better?
I certainly believe you should be alarmed. You have the right to defend your marriage and to have a "healthy jealousy" for your wife. However, instead of getting angry, you may garner her attention more readily by expressing your hurt and concern for your marriage. If you react in anger and demand that she break off communication with her old boyfriend, she's likely to feel controlled or threatened. Even if you succeed in convincing her to sever ties, you haven't really addressed your marriage problem.
The real issues are trust and fidelity. Her rekindling an old flame opens a door that can easily lead to an emotional or sexual affair. Even if it never develops past playful banter, it can undermine intimacy and confidence in your marriage. What cracks are there in your relationship that might be prompting the "What if?" in her mind?
Instead of reacting emotionally, view this incident as you would the "check engine" light on your dashboard. The light isn't the problem. It's just a warning that something far more threatening may be developing.
Jim: It's encouraging to know that your daughter isn't doing anything inappropriate during those late nights, but that's always a risk, even for compliant teens. Even if they don't go looking for trouble online, trouble may find them, in the form of a predator or an offensive link. So remain vigilant.
Regardless of her activity online, you have reason to be concerned about the hours your daughter's keeping. A study of 20,000 youths in the journal Sleep found that those who slept fewer than five hours a night were three times more likely to become psychologically troubled in the next year. And much of that lack of sleep can be attributed to late nights on the computer, instant messaging, gaming and Facebook.
Less sleep was also associated with longer-term mental health problems, especially depression, later in life. Researchers think a lack of sleep may explain a rise in mental illness among young people in recent decades. The teenage years can be full of anxiety already. If you add sleep deprivation to the mix, the results can be disastrous. Some experts believe that this combination can even contribute to major depression and bipolar disorder long after adolescence is over.
The most straightforward solution is to place limits on your daughter's computer time. Make sure she's getting plenty of sleep every night. Let her know that, for her own sake, using the computer into the early morning hours isn't permissible. The same goes for smartphones and other devices. She may be surprised at how much better she feels!
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.)
(Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com)