Feeling disconnected? It may be time to log off and plug back into your relationship.
Connecting via Facebook, emails, texting, tweets and instant messages can be convenient. Technology offers fast ways to ask your husband to pick up lettuce at the grocery store on the way home or to let your wife know that you'll be home later than usual. But according to new findings, this convenience may come at the cost of closeness in your relationship.
Researchers from Oxford University have found couples who keep in touch too much via technology tend to have less satisfying marriages. Couples who used five or more electronic channels of communication reported an average of 14 percent less relationship satisfaction than couples who were less electronically connected.
How could this be? Doesn't connecting more (in any capacity) foster closeness?
Well, the answer is yes and no. Any connection a with loved one beats no connection at all, provided that the connection is neutral or positive. Sending a text that reads, "See you after work" is neutral information-sharing. On the other hand, sending a text that says, "I love you!" conveys a much more positive message and fosters loving feelings ... at least a bit. And swapping naughty texts back and forth over the course of the day gets you hot for each other when you climb in to bed together at night. However, virtual connecting is never a substitute for physical togetherness and it tends to make matters worse in your relationship. Here are four reasons why:
1. Technology makes it easier to fight dirty. Anger can be too easily impulsively shot out in an email or text. Too many folks dash off a quick nasty comment in response to something that annoyed them. If they click "send" before they've had time to calm down and think through a more tactful response, there's likely to be trouble ahead.
2. "Checking things online" interrupts your quality time together. Folks who connect over so many electronic channels with their loved ones may be doing the same with friends and business partners. Therein lies the problem. Maintaining all those connections can slice and dice your time with your main loved one. Each and every interruption to your time alone together diminishes the intensity of your connection.
3. Virtual connections can't replace physical intimacy. When you receive a text or read an email, all you get is information. You don't receive smiles, hugs, laughter or touch. What fosters loving feelings with significant others usually involves physical contact — simple things like gazing lovingly at each other, holding hands, whispering sweet nothings. Eye-to-eye and skin-to-skin contact all turn on the love hormone oxytocin. This chemical in your brain enhances your feelings of affection and increases your sense of bonding with your partner. This is something you can't express over a text message.
4. Messages are easily misinterpreted. Texts can only convey so much through words without what psychologists call "prosody" or the sound of voices. This means that misinterpretations of texts can run rampant. Sending a text that reads, "See you after work" can be interpreted as an annoyed order if the receiver is sensitive. In this regard, at least phone calls (which add voice to the bandwidth) are less likely to create upsets from misperceptions.
Sharing thoughts makes at least some emotional connection, which is part of why many couples like to talk as a prelude to sex. At the same time, talking enhances connection power when you are physically together because you can see each other, hear each other and touch each other. And that can never be conveyed over technology of any kind.
Psychologist and marriage counselor Susan Heitler, Ph.D. is author of the book, the workbook and the website called Power of Two.