It is unnecessary to point out how much Smartphones and other forms of technology have significantly enhanced our lives. I am, however, seriously concerned with how it has affected intimacy, closeness and bonding in romantic relationships.
As a couples' therapist, I have heard issues around technology brought up in countless sessions. Often, the complaints involve a partner's excessive use or attention toward a cell phone, iPad or computer. At times, these situations are about too much use of texting to communicate important or emotionally-laden information that should be stated face-to-face.
Among the other serious complaints is the viewing of pornography at the expense of intimate contact with a partner. Regardless of the specific issues, we are starting to see a good amount of research and data that proves the assertion that technology can negatively impact our close relationships.
Does your partner have to compete with your cell phone for attention? This is by far the biggest complaint I hear. This is about a disproportionate amount of time spent focused on your phone and not enough with your partner. This erodes the belief that you will be responsive to your partner emotionally in times of need. It may create doubt in their mind that they are important or a priority.
Greetings and goodbyes are significant points of contact with someone. Don't grab your phone before saying good morning to your mate or seeing them for the first time that day. In the evening, technology in the bedroom (television included) can easily impede physical intimacy as well.
Are you consumed with your phone or tablet during activities being done "together?" This may include sitting and watching T.V. or eating meals (home or in restaurants) with your partner. There are many opportunities to be on your phone when you are by yourself. When one of you is driving (and unable to "play" with their phone) and the passenger is using one of their gadgets constantly, this can also be frustrating.
Get out of the habit of using technology when sitting face-to-face with your partner or doing a passive activity such as driving or watching a movie together at home. What's even better is not keeping your phone by your side or on the table next to you. Believe it or not, even when not directly being used, the phone can be a distraction. A recent study found that when a cell phone was nearby (even if not being used) that participants reported lower relationship quality, less trust toward their partner and that their partner was less empathetic.
If you do not live with your partner, are you inclined to stay home to use technology instead of making face-to-face plans? Seeing someone face-to-face for one hour would be better than the three-hour-long texted conversation you just had. Knowing the "meta-communication," such as body language, tone of voice, facial affect, is essential to good communication.
You may potentially find that things don't go as well while communicating with another person face-to-face or talking on the phone, but seems to flow better though texting. This should be a sign that this person may not be the right fit for you. If you are trying to find "the one," you don't have all that time to waste by hiding behind technology. In extreme cases, a "relationship" where the only interactions have been via technology is a superficial one at best and a total sham at worst.
Have you linked up with an "ex" via social media? The internet as the "information superhighway" can also be the "infidelity superhighway." Over the past decade, affairs were often started by contact with someone they met at work that blossomed. The internet has made it quite easy to expand our social circle, make new contacts and re-connect with old ones.
I have heard all too frequently about someone starting an extra-marital relationship after finding their "ex" on Facebook. These social media connections frequently set the stage for emotional and/or physical infidelity. These relationships are often idealized or romanticized and not grounded in the day-to-day reality of your life. They pose a serious threat to your real relationship with your partner and create a means of avoidance around actually fixing the issues you may be having with your partner.
You should also ask yourself if technology plays into a negative cycle of interaction that you may have with your partner around times of distress or arguments. During difficult interactions, what does your behavior look like? Does "powering up" just help you shut down or avoid conflict? Does it make it easier to give your boyfriend the silent treatment? Do you wait until your girlfriend leaves the house and then start texting a bunch of nasty messages? Be careful not to let technology put up a roadblock to emotional engagement and responsiveness to your partner.
I am definitely not saying that all technology is bad. It can actually be used at times in ways to bring you closer together. Flirting, sending sexy emails or pictures, a fun voicemail, etc. can be awesome for a relationship. Using Skype or Facetime for a quick work break or while out of town to stay connected can work quite well. By learning why you use technology and how to use it wisely, you can definitely find ways to connect with your partner better than ever.
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