Is Multitasking Destroying Relationships?

multitasking couple
Love, Self

Experts say multitasking can ruin relationships.

It's Friday night in a romantic Italian restaurant with tables set for two. The low murmur of intimate conversation is punctuated by laughter and the occasional clinking of glasses. Candlelight flickers, and couples lean toward one another across tables, speaking conspiratorially with hands intertwined. Suddenly, the air is pierced by a loud digital ringing.

Ten years ago, diners might have turned in annoyance at the interruption, but today, a different scene emerges. The restaurant explodes in a flurry of activity. Hands are untangled and conversations screech to a halt as women dig in their purses and men fumble around in their pockets. In less than fifteen seconds, half the faces in the restaurant are washed in the glow of tiny digital screens, everyone scrolling and clicking to see if they've missed a call. Someone in the back calls out "It's mine", and phones are returned to their pockets and purses, or simply left out on the tabletop for easier access the next time around.

Looking around the restaurant, and then back at my own boyfriend, who is checking his recent texts, I have to wonder: is multitasking killing romance?

The experts seem to think so. As reported in a recent LiveScience article, human brains struggle to do multiple activities at once. We may feel more "productive" when we have conversations while watching web videos or checking our phones, but our brains can't actually process multiple activities simultaneously. Instead, the brain switches back and forth between the activities, which results in diminished attention and concentration fatigue. In other words: you think you're paying attention, but you're not. Relationship Bad Habits: How To Break Them

Depressingly, it turns out that getting "better" at multitasking is almost impossible. In a 2009 study, frequent multitaskers were found to have difficulty sorting useless information from relevant information, and consistently struggled with switching from task to task.

So what does this mean for our love lives? You may not think multitasking affects your relationship negatively (after all, if your boyfriend doesn't hop out of bed to water his Farmville crops after sex, what's there to fuss about?), but it's likely that the do-everything-at-once attitude so pervasive in today's culture is affecting your relationship more than you realize.

If you're a multi-tasker yourself, you're probably not putting as much effort into communication with your partner as you should be. It seems harmless to play Angry Birds while you and your partner decide what movie to see this weekend, but because you're not focused on the task at hand, you miss a valuable opportunity to "team up" with your partner. Connecting in small ways is one of the most important tactics for maintaining a strong long-term relationship, so you might be overlooking a chance to improve your bond in favor of checking your e-mail.

It's also common for partners of multi-taskers to feel slighted by their lover's distraction-prone ways, and to pull away emotionally as a response to the perceived rejection. This can be especially true for men dealing with task-juggling women. Psychologist and YourTango Expert Dr. Adam Sheck explains:

We know biologically that women are superior at multitasking then men, and multitasking by itself isn't a problem. It's when it interferes with the connection that it becomes problematic. Even if a woman can multitask while she is interacting with her male partner, HE won't feel like he's getting her full attention, because he knows/projects that HE couldn't give her his full attention. Therefore, he might feel less important and pull away from the "less than" connection he is experiencing.

Multitasking can also erode the quality of time busy couples spend together, because this time lacks the feeling of one-on-one attention. The depth of conversation is limited when each partner is trying to accomplish multiple tasks at once, and miscommunication and resentment can grow quickly when one partner or the other stops feeling heard and respected. 12 Relationship Red Flags

So what's a girl who values her relationship to do? We're not going to tell you to toss your Crackberry out the window. In our hooked-up world, multitasking and the devices that help us do it are considered a workplace necessity. (And even though studies suggest that doing multiple things at once isn't helpful, you still get funny looks at work if you're not doing three things at once.)

But we can encourage you to keep a mindful eye on how you spend the time you share with your romantic partner. Dr. Sheck reiterates, "To me, ANY multitasking that interferes with the relationship is too much multitasking." Dr. Sheck suggests scheduling dedicated distraction-free time together with your partner to counter the harmful effects of doing too many things at once.

That's right, kids. Step away from the internet (at least while you're with your beloved). When you go out for a romantic dinner, stash your phone out of sight and turn your ringer off. Try to avoid checking your e-mail while making brunch plans. And the next time your partner tries to talk to you, whether it's about something big or small, put down the smartphone and listen.

Photo Credit: ThinkStock