Don’t let technology ruin your relationships
By Cheryl Dizon-Reynante
Google. Facebook. Wikipedia. YouTube. Instagram. Snapchat. Pinterest. Yahoo.
Along with texting, e-mailing, and countless apps that are available, the vast majority of people in developed countries use technology on a daily basis. No doubt, there are advantages to technology that we cannot ignore. From the comfort of our homes, we can do personal banking, shop, register for school, purchase event tickets, and make travel plans. The numbers of situations where we must wait in line have been drastically reduced. Youth that were born in this century will probably not ever have to access a set of encyclopedias or mail a handwritten letter to someone in another country.
Technology has been useful to those who have family and friends who live far away. Skype and FaceTime have been a godsend to many people who cannot visit their loved ones easily. So in that way, technology brings people together.
However, can technology be too much of a good thing? Current research says yes. The term “technoference” refers to the interference of technology in personal relationships, such as those with our romantic partner or children. Being on your phone may seem like an innocent activity, but can have a big impact on the wellbeing of a relationship.
Disconnect between couples
Humans are built to connect with others. We crave love, affection and belonging. Strong partnerships have a solid sense of security and safety, where both are confident that no matter what they say or do, they will be accepted and loved. Both people are also sure that the relationship will last. This is an intimate sense of belonging.
The world of social media can also feed the desire for connection. That is a big motivation for us when we post a comment or picture and get “likes” and positive comments. We feel good about this virtual interaction with our family and friends.
But sometimes, these two worlds can clash. As a therapist, one of the first things that I ask a couple when I meet them is “what do your evenings together look like?” Meals together and conversation are always good signs. But some couples respond with, “we sit on a couch in front of a TV and are on our phones.” This is sometimes a relaxing way to spend an evening after a long day. But repeated evenings of this scenario can deeply impact a couple. Imagine that you are trying to talk to your partner, and in the middle of the conversation, they respond to the sound of a text message, e-mail or Facebook notification. This tells you that you are not important. Just as a cashier or retail clerk should not turn away from you to respond to the phone ringing, neither should you to your loved one.
A repeated message like this could lead to resentment, unhappiness, jealousy, arguments, and withdrawing. Our technology obsession has resulted in couples arguing over text. This is a very slippery slope because you cannot get a real sense of emotion in a text. Some people can get jealous over their loved one’s interactions with other people on social media. Clicking on “like” can seem like a simple thing, but can be interpreted in different ways.
Also, there are a growing number of people becoming addicted to Internet pornography. Just like substance abuse, cyber porn can ruin a couple’s intimacy. Guilt and unrealistic sexual expectations can come up, and trust can be affected.
Phones, tablets, and computers are sometimes “the third wheel” in a relationship – always present, interfering with the couple’s time together.
Distance from our children
Prioritizing time spent on technology cannot only impact our romantic relationships, but those with our children. Imagine that a child is trying to get the attention of their parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent on their phone, and are told to be quiet or “later.” Parents nowadays can find it difficult to read a bedtime story, listen to how their kid’s day at school was, or watch their child’s concert without checking their phone at least once.
Children can easily get the message. “You are not important,” and this may have a deep effect on their formative years. Self-esteem and identity are still developing, and they might feel that they are not “good enough.” The scary part about this is that they may seek out feeling “good enough” from other sources. Some teens turn to a bad crowd at school, engage in drugs, alcohol, teenage sex, or crime.
From the time they are newborns, kids have basic needs: Watch over me! Delight in me! Help me! Enjoy with me! Welcome my coming to you! Protect Me! Comfort Me! Organize my feelings! Paying attention to these messages takes a lot of time, effort and patience and we are already busy people. Sometimes, kids might think that they do not need our guidance or help, but kids always do. They just don’t realize it. Eventually, children will want to spend less and less time away from their parents and family as they grow older. Why limit the time we have with them now?
Steps toward connection
Stick to these simple guidelines when you are with loved ones:
- Meal times are an excellent time to reconnect. Eat without the television on or phones nearby. Invite everyone to share at least one thing about his or her day.
- At least one hour before bedtime put the phones and other technology away. This gives the opportunity to talk to each other as the day comes to an end. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that staring at a screen before bedtime can interfere with sleep.
- Save text messages for nice things. Getting an “I love you” or “Thinking of you” or “Hope your day is going well” can be a nice surprise via text. Neutral message are fine too such as “Will be home after dinner.” However, if it’s a topic that can lead to conflict, make sure these conversations are done face to face.
- When a loved one is talking to you, ignore your phone. This small gesture gives a very big message: “You are more important than anything else right now.”
Reducing technoference can lead to increased happiness and satisfaction in relationships. In the end, this can be very freeing.
Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She is a proud member of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council and a provider for the Blue Cross Employee Assistance Program. Cheryl has experience helping clients with issues such as grief, depression, relationship difficulties, parenting, aging and illness. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or email@example.com.
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