Technology can have a big impact on relationships. In my counseling office, I see many couples who are struggling over Internet and social media issues. The ability to work at home via computer and smart phone can mean arguing about how work spills over and absorbs relationship time. Secrets that cause friction can come out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites. Online gaming, porn and gambling can become addictive and ravage families.
On the other hand, couples meet online and via social media sites, keep in contact with friends and family, save photos of trips and events, commemorate anniversaries and create parties and special occasions — all online.
Many experts and commentators worry that technology will supplant relationships, but there are four reasons why we will always need in-person contact.
- The Need To Communicate: The ways we can communicate may multiply, and that can make staying in touch easier, but the need for face to face, intimate and open communication will never change. Partners must be able to talk openly about issues, feelings, disagreements, finances and future plans to make a marriage work. Texting and quick smartphone calls or emails will not be enough to keep you connected.
- Intimacy: Keeping intimacy alive in marriage depends upon personal contact, and sensory connection. Technology will never replace these, and if you allow them to disappear from your relationship, the marriage will end.
- Partnership: The teamwork that allows a couple to create a successful relationship, handle the business of marriage, plan for the future, and work together to build a happy life may be enhanced or hindered by technology, but it will never be replaced by it.
- Family: A good marriage is the heart of a healthy, loving family. The children and extended family surround the center created by the married couple. Technology can make it easier to keep in touch with extended family, or with grown children away from home, but it will not replace the need for people to have contact with each other, and know and care about each other's lives.
Technology can help or hurt your relationships; it's all in how you use it. Learning to manage the new media can save your relationship. It's critical that you learn how to prevent Facebook apps from overtaking your time and your life, to keep tweeting to a manageable minimum, and to learn how to keep your significant other and dear friends in the loop, even when they aren't e-savvy.
Your close relationships can benefit from texting, posting and tweeting, but they can also suffer. At home, you and your partner need to make agreements about when phoning, texting, e-mail, online gaming, working at home and answering calls is okay, and when it's not. If phone calls are important to your work, or if personal calls are causing friction between you, develop signals you can use while on the phone to let your partner or roommate know if you're going to be on the phone or computer for a while. Negotiate guidelines for when answering phones and texts is okay and when it's not. For example, on your special night out, perhaps phoning and texting can be off-limits, unless it's a baby sitter or you're on call at work. Make those agreements in advance.
With couples in my counseling practice, the biggest pitfall is spending way too much time on the web, followed by Internet porn, sex or affairs. The pseudo anonymity of the Web makes it tempting to take risks or to establish a false persona; both can be devastating to relationships. Keep in mind, if it's on the web, false screen name or not, it's findable. Don't interpret what your partner, friend or family member posts online, ask! If you see something upsetting on a Facebook wall go ahead and ask. Facebook is public; it's not like reading private mail or a diary — just ask what's going on, and give the other person a chance to explain. Definitely don't sit around making up stories — you'll think up a lot more scary stuff than is really happening.
You not only have to consider your relationship, but your future job history and legal issues, too, when you post online. Just because your friends think it's funny doesn't make it a good idea. You can have fun, but take a moment to think how other people see it. If your partner spends way too much time online, it may not be work, it may be a cyber affair. Even if it's just an online game, it's possible to develop feelings for one of the other gamers. And online porn can be a big problem in relationships, as can online shopping and gambling.
Here are some ideas for keeping technology use in line.
DO: Set aside face to face time
DON'T: Complain about technology problems—find solutions instead.
DO: Share technology and enjoy it together
DON'T: Fight about technology, time or Internet issues
DO: Stay connected about computer use and technology. Understand each other’s needs for use.
DON'T: Develop resentment about technology use and lack of time together.
DO: Clearly and calmly state whatever is not working for you in the relationship, and work together to solve the problems.
DON'T: Allow texting, phoning, computer use and social media time take over too much personal time.
DO: Make agreements about phoning, texting, e-mail, online gaming, working at home and answering calls. Set times when it’s appropriate, and when it’s not.
DON'T: Ignore feeling disconnected. Reach out to each other.
DO: Get counseling if you can’t work it out on your own.
With a little planning and communication technology can be managed and you can make sure it enhances your relationships rather than interfering with them.
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