Is friending your ex on Facebook cheating?

Someone asked me this question recently. To answer it, I need to take a big step back. First, let’s talk about attraction in general. So, if you married the right person, you’ll never be tempted to stray, right?

Hardly. Attraction happens, and it happens especially at a time in life that most people refer to as the “mid life crisis.” It happens to men, and it happens to women. (By the way, Laura Munsen wrote a great essay about this recently called, “Those Aren’t Fighting Words Dear.”)

Attraction happens because your spouse can never be your everything. No one person possesses every single attractive quality. Your husband or wife is probably a lot of great things—supportive, smart, caring, successful, you name it—but there is probably something that he or she is not.

And when you meet someone who has that something, you are going to want it. And when that happens, it’s scary.

You’re especially vulnerable around midlife for a few reasons. These include:

1.    You’ve been married for a while. The fireworks stage is over, and many of those things that you used to do to build one another up (honey, you look so hot in those pants!) have given way to the routine of marriage and parenting (honey, thanks for emptying the dishwasher. Appreciated.)

2.    You feel old, as if the best of life is about to pass you by. You start to worry, “If my spouse is not my soul mate, I’d better find the real one quick, before I lose the ability to attract anyone.”

3.    You crave validation. At midlife, when lines sprout every which way from our lips, we crave hearing someone say, “You’re so pretty. You’re so funny. You’re so smart.” If someone else does this and our spouse doesn’t? We’re going to crave hearing it from that someone else.

It doesn’t mean you don’t love your spouse if you are attracted to someone else. No, it just means that you are still alive. The love comes in practicing self-control, in saying, “Wow, that’s really tempting but, nah. My marriage is too important to take that risk.” That’s love.

So What Constitutes Cheating?

If attraction is normal, then where’s the line? That’s what people are really debating when they want to know whether or not it’s okay to friend an ex on Facebook. Let’s take a look at a couple of situations from my life. You can vote on whether or not you think they constitute cheating.

Situation #1: Many months ago, when most of the midlife adult world was discovering Facebook, a few of my ex-boyfriends sent me friend requests. I looked at the requests and thought about them. Then I asked my husband, “Is it okay if I let my ex-boyfriends friend me on Facebook?” He said he didn’t care. I accepted their friendship, knowing that I would unfriend them if things got flirty. They didn’t. In fact, to this day, we’ve not messaged one another. At all.

#1: Is this cheating?

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Situation #2: About a year ago, I was feeling this restless yearning that is very hard to describe. I kept going to bars alone. I had all sorts of justifications for what I was doing. I was bored. None of my friends were available. My husband went to bars alone and no one thought anything odd about that. When I was out at these bars, invariably men would hit on me. While that flattered me, I never acted on it. I just basked in their attention and then I went home to my husband. I kept not secrets. I told him about every single thing these men said.

#2: Is this cheating?

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Now that you’ve had your chance to vote, I’ll tell you what I think. Situation #1? Harmless. Situation #2? Absolutely dangerous.

And the difference isn’t in the actual details. The difference lies in my mindset. I’m one of those people who, when she’s done with a relationship, she’s done. I could sleep in the same bed with one of my ex-boyfriends and never once be tempted to touch him. Whatever we had together years ago was nice, but I don’t need to ever have it again. Been there. Done that. So done with that.

In the second situation, I was not attracted to any of the men who hit on me. They just weren’t my type. That said, I was tempting fate. Chances are that, had I continued these escapades, my type would have eventually sat next to me at the bar. More important, looking back on that time in my life, I can clearly see that I was an empty vessel that needed to be filled with another man’s admiration. I was starting to feel past my prime. I was desperate for others to confirm for me that I, indeed, wasn’t. That’s a very dangerous place to be in when it’s time to practice self-control.

The Self Control Litmus Test

Okay, so how do you figure out whether or not an attraction is harmless? In my opinion, the situation hardly matters. It’s the implication: what does it mean about your marriage? Why is it happening? Here’s my litmus test. It’s dangerous when:

1.    You turn to someone else for comfort. If you find yourself revealing deep dark secrets to someone else and crying on someone else’s shoulder, you need to ask yourself, “Why am I not doing this with my spouse?”

2.   You complain about your spouse to someone else. Big. Red. Flag.

3.    You start keeping secrets. If the relationship is really harmless, why aren’t you telling your spouse about it?

4.   You feel out of control.

How to Practice Self Control

Remind yourself that your spouse is Mr. or Mrs. Right. It’s really tempting, when you are attracted to someone else, to question your marriage and to tell yourself, “Crap I married the wrong person.” You didn’t. Trust me. If you left your spouse for this other person, the attraction would eventually wane and you’d eventually ask yourself, “What have I done?”

Remind yourself why you love your spouse. Keep all of these reasons front and center in your mind. Several times a day, think about your spouse, and remind yourself, “I’m so happy that she/he is still in my life.” Remind yourself that your spouse probably won’t be in your life any longer if you do not practice self-control.

Remind yourself that there are lots of things in life that you can’t have. Everything in life poses a trade off. If you want to lose weight, you can’t eat as much dessert as you’d like. If you want to save money for retirement, you can’t buy every single thing that you want. If you want to stay married to your spouse, you can’t sleep with someone else. Learn how to accept disappointment. It’s the fighting against it–the yearning and grasping and emotional temper tantrum (It’s not fair! It’s not fair! It’s not fair!)–that makes an attraction hard to resist. If you just relax and accept that you can’t have everything that you want, it loses a lot of its power.

Figure out what’s missing from your marriage. Your spouse may not be able to make an abrupt personality overhaul (for instance, if he’s not funny, he may never be funny), but he can probably give you many of the things that you find so attractive in that someone else.

Practice continual acts of validation and ask for them in return. Once I explained to my husband that I craved compliments, he started feeding them to me. Now that he gooses me whenever I bend over and whistles at me whenever I dress up, I’m much less needy for that kind of attention from others. He’s giving me what I need.


What do you think constitutes cheating? How do you affair-proof your relationship? Leave a comment.

Note: A big thank you to that person who will remain nameless (she knows who she is) for suggestion this blog topic.

27 comments… add one

  • A.J. August 7, 2009, 11:39 am

    Great post, Alisa. I agree with your comment that whether a situation is dangerous or not has to do with one’s mindset. I have accepted friend requests from several exes on Facebook, and it’s been no big deal. I have the same attitude toward exes that you do – been there, done that, there’s a good reason they’re exes.

    However, when I came across a guy I *almost* had a brief fling with a number of years ago and sent him a Facebook friend request, I didn’t have any bad intentions but quickly realized it was a mistake. Because I hadn’t actually had a relationship with him, but had had romantic interest in him back when I knew him (and he in me, though we never dated because the circumstances weren’t right when we met), I never got to see how a romantic relationship with him would have played out (ie; I never got to know him well enough to see what annoyed me about him or if/why we weren’t compatible) there was still that sense of romantic intrigue around him. He’s also someone who has a quality/characteristic that I find very compelling but that my (wonderful) husband does not have. I got over it, but now realize I put myself in a potentially dangerous situation.

    With actual exes it’s a different story. Sure, I might have a fleeting memory of something great about a certain ex. But then I’ll quickly remember that, for example, when we were dating, it was a battle to pull him away from watching sports on TV (and I hate sports) long enough to get him to actually go out and DO something with me. Or that he was a bad influence on me and always wanted to sit around and eat fattening food together. That takes care of temptation pretty quickly.

    Reply
  • Melinda | WAHM Biz Builder August 7, 2009, 7:21 pm

    I have two exes as friends on facebook. One, I meet up with now and then for coffee, we have a lot of friends in common and we like chatting with each other. The passion was over years ago, we’re now friends. Just friends.

    The other one, he cheated on my multiple times and eventually went back to his first wife (separated long before he met me). We comment on each other’s posts on FB, but that’s it. If he ever invited me for coffe I think I’d have to wash my hair that day. Or reorganise my linen cupboard. No interest whatever in meeting him face to face again.

    My husband knows about both these guys, the history, the current friendships. He’s fine with them.

    Your second example of meeting guys – I think the polls should have asked “Is this dangerous?” rather than is it cheating. Neither is cheating, however the FB example is harmless and the bar example is playing with fire. You’re lucky you didn’t get burned early on, before you could fix your marriage.

    Reply
    • Virginia September 14, 2013, 5:44 am

      I agree. I voted NO to it being cheating. I would have voted YES if she asked if if was dangerous. It surely was and is. My husband friended a couple of his old girl friends on Facebook. One I knew he had and the other I found out about. He told me he accidently friended. Now how does one do that? When I called him on it, he quickly de-friended her. He lied to me about this, what else has he lied to me about.

      Reply
  • EC August 10, 2009, 10:01 am

    I particularly liked the four “tests” for whether a situation is dangerous. I’ve been facing this situation myself recently – having done nothing more shocking than go out for lunch twice with a male friend – except that I know where my mind is and it’s not ok. I think the first of the relationship rules is the first for a reason…if your head isn’t in the game 100%, you’re not going to make it work. I just needed to admit that to myself.

    Reply
  • Sandy August 11, 2009, 6:14 am

    If you have to ask the question then you have the answer………

    Reply
  • Rose August 12, 2009, 7:46 am

    I think if your spouse doesn’t tell you about a “friend” on facebook, and is not open about who and what then that is a BIG BIG deal. Just because they have exerted self control so far doesn’t mean they will continue to. Also who is to say they have not opened up the line of communication via another email account, so the online page looks innocent but the flirting is occuring elsewhere. I am in a long term relationship with a man whom has cheated in the past so my anttena are always up. It has been 5 years since his transgression, but I can tell when he cheats – even on his diet. Facebook and other sites where “exes can reconnect” are like picking at an open wound, irritate it enough and you will need to see someone about it. Cell phones, browing history and lots of other trails can all be deleted. Know your spouse. Protect yourself.

    Reply
  • Hayles August 15, 2009, 1:02 pm

    “Remind yourself why you love your spouse. Keep all of these reasons front and center in your mind. Several times a day, think about your spouse, and remind yourself, “I’m so happy that she/he is still in my life.”

    So what do you do when you’re in the “I wish my husband would drop dead” phase and you can’t think of any of these reasons? Then what do you do?

    Reply
  • Alisa Bowman August 16, 2009, 6:54 am

    Hayles–Good question and big oversight on my part. Of course, the main thing to do there is to work on the problems that are causing you to wish your spouse dead. Having an affair or coming close to having one (emotional affair, excessive flirtation etc) does not fix a marriage. In a way, it’s a cop out–a way of ignoring real problems that are right in front of you. There’s lots of advice throughout the site for solving the “wish he/she would drop dead issue.” The Relationship Rules ebook is a great place to start (download upper right corner of the sidebar).

    Reply
  • Jen August 20, 2009, 8:24 pm

    When I first joined Facebook I found my “true love” from college and was so psyched to get in touch with him. But after a good’s night sleep I thought, what will this really accomplish? And I know it would hurt my husband’s feelings, even if it’s not really cheating.

    Reply
  • AJ August 21, 2009, 12:10 pm

    I recently found out that my wife was facebook friended to her ex boyfriend on facebook.

    Not just any old boyfriend, but the guy she dated while dating me. The one who said he “had a ring and was finally ready to give her everything she wanted if she would just break up with me”.

    Turned out it was innocent enough, his sister had suggested her to him as he was a new user.

    Still, I didn’t like it, especially that she didn’t even bother to mention it to me first. Any other old flame wouldn’t be a big deal to me, but that one was a little too close to home.

    Reply
  • Holly October 16, 2009, 11:54 pm

    Though not a big Dr. Phil fan, I like his, “Those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing”.

    For me, the red flag was when I started to hide things from my spouse (things that were innocent enough from an outsider’s perspective, but I know that my intentions were not good). A good rule of thumb for me (not that I always abide by my own advice) is, ‘what would I think if my husband did this with the same intentions/motivation as me?’.

    Reply
  • Dawn October 26, 2009, 12:10 pm

    I recently found out my husband is flirting with an ex on FB. We have been married for 12 years and have children. I’m really hurt and feel betrayed and not sure what to do. I love him more then anything and he says he loves me. He doesn’t know that I’m aware of this flirtation. I knew every once in a while he would receive an email from her that just said “hi” and to find out how things are going and he would tell me about it. But about month ago she had her own martial problems and now my husband and her are talking on a regular basis and he’s not telling me about it. The conversation has turned to him flirting and fantasy stories. I’m not sure how to approach this since he’s not aware I read these private emails. He flirted with a ex a couple of years ago and I found out and he was defensive and told me I should trust him and that she was only a friend.

    Reply
  • Joe October 27, 2009, 12:54 pm

    I agree with the person who said they were tempting fate. I’m sure all of this starts out innocently enough, but when you’ve had strong feelings for someone in the past and you carry on a “online” relationship with them, I believe that over time those feelings can become stronger. Just look at the Governor of South Carolina, he “chatted” for several years with his “lover” before he took action, but he ultimately did take action.

    I’ll bet facebook will break up more than one marriage.

    Reply
  • Kat November 9, 2009, 7:48 am

    Me and my husband play games on facebook. I usually go into his account so I can collect items to further my game. One morning I went into his account and his ex-girlfriend friend request him. I excepted her friend request because I was curious about her. I am not wanting to tell my husband what I did because I want to see if she tries to bring up the past. I guess I am curious about what he would do. Is this wrong? Should I be more trusting and to just tell him about all of this?

    Reply
  • theotherperspective May 2, 2010, 1:01 pm

    Sorry, I voted wrong in the first one.
    I think simple friending is not cheating. Telling an ex that you’d rather be at his place because you hate the state you live in is.
    Saying things to an ex, such as, “poking you is fun” is getting really close.

    Reply
  • Dave June 4, 2010, 5:50 pm

    I found out my wife had been communicating with an ex for 5 years. Now they live in different states but he has been to our state at least once during this time. In 2009 she joined FB and communicated with him there – not on her wall but by private message/ chat / poke. All of this was kept secret from me. My wife maintains this is all innocent. I think that her mindset was not and therefore this was very dangerous, or maybe it went farther than I know. She keeps saying she can’t remember specifics. This is driving me crazy. Like the article states he probably has one or more qualities that are attractive to my wife that I don’t have. Normal attraction that would be innocent as she says IF she hadn’t kept their relationship a secret. But she chose to keep a secret. And this guy is a special ex. They broke up because his family moved – not because they wanted to. It is like unfinished business between them I think. I feel betrayed and hurt. She still claims this is nothing. Ladies, I would really appreciate your input on this. I would like to share whatever you all say with my wife and we could both get truly independent opinons on this. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
  • QueenSize July 17, 2010, 10:07 pm

    I saw that my ex had a 2 year old son on Facebook. So I got the balls to say hello to him. I knew he was married because even though his FB was private he revealed that bit of info. Anyway, I left a simple, sweet, and harmless message that his son looked just like him, long time no see, etc. I did not request his friendship on FB. About 2 hours later I got a reply in which he said he was going to request my friendship. That was fine with me. (We dated 2 1/2yrs in Highschool,bad breakup, haven’t spoke or seen eachother in 15yrs). One of the first things he said to me was that in terms of our relationship, things of could of been handled better on his part. I was shocked. My plan was to keep it light and not to discuss us. Whoa. So we went down memory lane for 4 days back and forth bullshit. He talked about how I thought he was cheating, that he really did love me, that he was so angry for a long time because he didn’t understand why we seperated. How I costed him other relationships. I was totally taken back. I checked his page he’s married and has 3 kids (2 step sons) he’s 31 years old. I gave him my cell and lets talk to clear the air (I thought that would be best than to talk via FB) he said he would call but he didn’t. He kept talking via FB. Another day goes by of chatting and I suggested we have lunch to clear the air. He goes quiet for hours. The conversations became more intense. I started to sense his anger. I just decided to stop talking. I wished him well, expressed appreciation for taking this time out for eachother and told Sam that we’ll talk in another 15 years. Why is he picking at me? He’s has a family and clearly has moved on. Seems like he’s trying to hurt me after all these years. Why?

    Reply
  • Alisa Bowman July 18, 2010, 6:15 am

    QuuenSize: You could torture yourself with these questions and this doubt, or you could just say, “Some people are like that ” and move on. He sounds like one of those people who blames everyone else for his unhappiness. Such people are not fun to be around and definitely not fun to be in a relationship with. Just my two cents.
    Alisa Bowman´s last blog post ..5 Surprising Tactics That Will Hurt Your Marriage

    Reply
  • QueenSize July 30, 2010, 1:35 am

    Oh Wow. Thanks for responding. I must be crazy because we have continued to talk as of today. We hashed out alot of things. We talk via facebook once a day. It seems like we’ve practically are yelling at eachother via computers at times. We really loved eachother many moons ago. Sam was someone that I regretted losing but that never stopped me from growing up and getting my groove one with others. I’ve said goodbye to him twice and the invisible magnet pulls us to one another once again. He keeps saying that I left him and I gave up on us when I walked away. I’ve apologized for my faults and he not once has admitted to anything. Sam even saids he loved me as much as he knew how but it just wasn’t good enough for me. All this chatter has forced out all these emotions. I feel foolish. What is his MO? We agreed to work on having a friendship. Is that possible? I wish you could read our facebook convo. You’re right perhaps life is not what he expected it to be and he is miserable. How am I to blame?

    Reply
  • peg October 3, 2011, 9:23 pm

    If you are not upfront with your spouse about any kind of relationship you are in other than your spouse then its Cheating! You said your vows with God as a witness. So do the right thing. Be honest to your spouse. They deserve it

    Reply
  • Juniper October 10, 2011, 3:27 pm

    this was fantastically helpful, especially the section on how to practice self control. Thank you!!

    Reply
  • Tracey d davis December 12, 2011, 1:32 pm

    If anyone contacts an ex-mate and they do not tell their current mate, then of course we all know that this is considered cheating.

    Reply
  • Tracey d davis December 12, 2011, 1:35 pm

    If you contact an ex and you do not tell your current mate then yes you are cheating mentally and soon it will be physically when the opportunity arises.

    Reply
  • Johanna September 18, 2012, 2:08 pm

    I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for 17 years now. I met him in school and I got pregnant at 15 with our first child. 2 months later, I was pregnant with twins (boy and girl). At the beginning, we had many problems since he was living at his parents and I was living with min, trying to finish high school. After I graduated from High School, I started College, which created more issues in our relationship because he has other thoughts in his head of what going to school was after having kids.
    I finally graduated college and we moved in together. At the beginning this were good but then after a year I started noticing that everything that he once liked (cooking, cleaning, ironing, washing clothing) would bother. One day after coming home from a birthday party with my kids, I noticed that he was not home. I went straight to the closet and his cowboy hat and boots were not there. I waited for him all night, but he never showed up until the next day at 10:30, demanding breakfast. I kicked him out and later that week found of that he was at a dance with another woman on mother’s day weekend.
    We were separated for about a year and a half and then decided to give it a second chance. We got back together and everything has been great, our kids are getting older and we have more time for ourselves, to go out and do things as partners.
    Since the economy has been bad my boyfriend lost his job and I have been blessed with a job that has been offering us 18 hours of overtime a week. I started working 116 hours every two weeks. I get up at 3:00 AM and leave my house at 4:30 AM, I have to drive over an hour to get to work and clock in at 6:30AM and work until 6:00 PM, so I would not get home until 7:30 or so. I have been doing this since February 2012.
    Well to make the story short I found out that he has been calling his ex from 14 years for over 7 months. I found this out because he left his facebook account open and I was curious to see what he would write about. When I opened his messages, that is where I saw that he had been looking for this woman and he asked her for her number to catch up. There was some explicit messaging from her saying that she still remembers the nights that they had at this hotel together and that she still thinks about him a lot. He replied that he still thinks about her too and that she is in his heart as a very special person in his life. I guess she questioned if this was really him and she asked him to say something they both only knew, so he called her by his special name. That broke my heart to see those messages from both of them. She is also married with four children.
    The next day he called her four times starting at 5PM- 8PM, while I was working overtime. The calls and messaging continued until I confronted him three weeks ago. He denied it of course but then he told me that he contacted her because he had heard that she had a baby of his and wanted to see if it was true. He then told me that she said she had an abortion since he had left her to come back to me.
    The worse thing of all is that this year has been horrible health wise. I was diagnosed with a tumor in my uterus, which the Dr was not sure if it was cancer, after a month test came back negative. On July 31 I went in for surgery, they removed my cervix and uterus. I show that he kept on calling her and even talked and texted her the day before and after my surgery. He says that it was nothing that they did not even see each other, but when I question as to why this carried on for so long, he does not say anything. Okay I understand if he wanted to know if she had a baby of his but after she answered him why did he keep on talking to her. I also show that he was the one that called her more than she did. Has anyone been in this situation? What should I think, I am confused.

    Reply
  • Juan Rodriguez May 13, 2013, 2:09 am

    OK THIS IS A GOOD READ,,BUT WHAT IF MY WIFE UNFRIENDED ME AND FRIENDED A MAN I CAUGHT HER TALKING TO BEFORE. THEN WHEN I CONFRONTED HER ABOUT IT SHE TOTALLY LIED TO MY FACE…I FELT SO DISRESPECTED….WHAT DOES A MAN DO THEN? IM TIRED OF THE SUFFERING AND HURT SHE PUTS ME THRU..I WORK 3RD SHIFT SO I WONDER IF MAYBE SHE NEEDS A MAN AT NIGHT TO HOLD.. I CANT KEEP LIVING LIKE THIS,,,WE HAVE A 5 YEAR OLD SON AND I TRULY BELIEVE SHE IS GOING THRU THIS MIDLIFE CRISIS..SHE IS LIVING WITH HER MOTHER AND PROBABLY SEEING THIS OTHER GUY BY NOW.. IF WE EVER DIVORCE IM NEVER FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN..6 YEARS OF THIS BS AND THE WHOLE TIME SHE ACTED AS IF EVERYTHING WAS DANDY..

    Reply
  • spoon February 2, 2014, 3:24 am

    A partner that is dishonest and secretive with you about the small things will be more dishonest if it comes to worse things. A thief begins by calulating the gain verses the risk and a cheater begins the same way. Trust is like water in that once it leaks out you can’t get it back and if you learn of a deception you can’t unlearn it! When your partner divorces their conscience they have divorced you emotionally! Now they are free to be dishonest, and if you stay then you have endorsed it.

    Reply
  • spoon February 2, 2014, 3:35 am

    I cheated back in 1975 at age 19 and my wife then had begged me to lie to her and say it wasn’t true and she promised that she would believe me! I refused to lie and took my chances knowing that living a lie was too high a price to save a relationship. She would not have known but i would have! Would she have lied to me? Absolutely! In 20 more years with her I never did a shameful thing like that again but we found out who cares more about honesty eventually and I left with my integrity after 22 years. Everyone we know personally will know if you are honest so we need not fear what anyone says about us.

    Reply

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