Even the technology that promises to unite us, divides us. Each of us is now electronically connected to the globe, and yet we feel utterly alone.
― Dan Brown, Angels & Demons
There is no getting around it—we live in a technological age. Everywhere we look we see some kind of screen: on the wall, on the dresser, on the desk, on the table, at our work, in our homes, in our hands. Many incredible advances and opportunities come with this age. More information is at our fingertips than ever before. Connecting with our loved ones—even when they are on the other side of the world—has never been easier. We can capture our own experiences and share them in seconds with the people who matter most to us. At the same time, we have to be careful. Being more “connected” than ever has its drawbacks. Suddenly, as we fiddle with our phones and surf the waves of social media, we are more disconnected than ever to the people we love the most—maybe even the person sitting right next to us. Thus, with great technology comes great responsibility. So how do we use technology to strengthen our marriage while avoiding the drawbacks that can cause so much damage?
My husband, Scott, works a lot. Not as much as he used to as a lawyer, but still. He leaves the house most days before 8 a.m. and doesn’t get home until just before 7. Then, because of church responsibilities, he is away two or three evenings a week and most of the day on Sunday serving our neighborhood. He is engaged in wonderful things, and I am happy to support him. What makes it easier is our ability to connect through technology, even though we are apart. Cell phones and email are awesome tools–and we use them to our advantage. We generally try to talk for a few minutes at some point during the day simply to share how the day is going. During our conversations, I might share with him something I did with the kids, or about a writing project I’m working on, or a funny thing that happened while I was volunteering at the school. Sometimes we send pictures to each other that capture something interesting or beautiful we saw or we’ll send a video clip sure to crack the other up. Or, I might text him to say, “Hey honey, I hope you are having a great day. Thanks for all you do.” I know it doesn’t sound like much, but he says that means a lot to him. That little gesture shows that I am thinking about him. I know I feel the same when he sends me a little digital love note.
It doesn’t take long to make the connection. Use technology to connect with your spouse during the day and to share your love. Whether through a phone call, an email, a text, sending a photo, leaving a voice message, or having a FaceTime chat when you are apart, take the opportunity to love your spouse digitally. Watching a television show or playing video games together can also boost the loving feelings in your relationship, provided you are both excited about the prospect. Researchers at Brigham Young University recently surveyed married couples and found that when both people were excited about playing, 76 percent said that gaming has a positive effect on their marital relationship. The number of hours of play time didn’t necessarily make a difference. The important factor to consider is “whether or not it creates conflict and quarreling over the game,” Recreation Management Professor Neil Lundberg of the study. For Scott and me, watching an episode of Frasier, Friends, or Modern Family at the end of the day is a fun way for us to relax and laugh together. Do what works for you.
There are plenty of ways to use your digital savvy to bless your relationship. If you find a way to use technology to make your spouse smile, to feel closer, or to simply help your spouse know that he or she is on your mind, then go for it. The trouble comes when you use that same technology to connect with the oh-so-many others who are available and waiting for your attention.
Using technology to connect with our spouse in positive ways can strengthen marriage. However, connecting with our Facebook friends or posting pictures on Instagram needs moderation if we’re going to keep our number one feeling like number one. This modern-era addiction is becoming increasingly difficult to drop. In fact, according to a recent study reported by The New York Times, women now spend 12 hours more per week on their smartphones than with their partner! (http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2016/10/14/women-spend-more-time-on-their-smartphones-than-with-their-partners-research-shows/). Sure, social media sites are a fun way to share and connect. The trick is to make sure we aren’t doing it so much that we are sacrificing time with our most important person. As marriage therapist Dr. Kent Griffiths put it, “Young couples, in particular, have so little time with one another with the demands of children, career, and maintaining home and lifestyle. To spend scarce free time on social media removes precious opportunity when they could otherwise be connecting. Social media is our way of joining with the world, but needs be managed in terms of its time and importance.”
Especially at night, screens are simply bad company. Dr. Alicia Clark, a Washington DC psychologist, reported to The Huffington Post that being on a screen at night surfing social media can be damaging to your relationship for many reasons. “Not only are you on your computer screen when your partner might be interested in relationship-enhancing conversation, physical intimacy, or a cuddle, you are likely tinkering with your natural sleep cues that could leave you sleep deprived,” she said. “As I’ve told clients, avoid social media (and screens) at least one hour before bed in order to help you get the best sleep possible and so you can engage with your partner instead. Keep the bedroom a screen-free zone” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/7-ways-facebook-can-ruin-your-relationship_us_56706867e4b0e292150f80b6).
Don’t let your gadgets interfere with your ability to have a happy and fulfilling partnership with the person right there next to you. Here are a few questions to ask yourself: Am I spending more time posting on social media than I am spending with my spouse? Am I on my phone or computer at night or in bed when I otherwise might be meaningfully engaged with my partner? Has my partner expressed frustration with the amount of time I spend on social media sites? Am I more concerned about what is happening on Facebook than about what my spouse is doing right next to me? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then it’s time to make a change.
Connecting through technology can move beyond being a simple distraction and become a serious threat to the happiness of your marriage. This is the dark side of technology, home to two of the worst culprits of emotional infidelity: social media sites and pornography.
As of January 2014, 74 percent of adults had a Facebook account (http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/). According to Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher with Pew Internet and American Life Project at Pew Research Center, while 89 percent of adults said they used their online profiles to “stay in touch with friends,” 20 percent said they used it “to flirt.” If you think that seems innocent enough, consider that one-third of divorce cases cited social-media as part of the problem (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jan/21/facebook-cited-in-a-third-of-all-divorce-cases-its/).
Flirting of any kind, old flame or new friend, can be potentially harmful to your marriage. What starts innocently enough can all too easily become something it was never meant to be. According to Psychologist John Grohol, the CEO and founder of Psych Central, “Readily available communication on Facebook leads people to pursue temptation or engage in risky behaviors. Facebook makes it easy to engage in less inhibited communication — which can lead to taking risks we wouldn’t ordinarily take in our everyday life.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/7-ways-facebook-can-ruin-your-relationship_us_56706867e4b0e292150f80b6).
One couple, marriage educators K. Jason and Kelli Krafsky, authors of The Social Media Couple, gained personal experience when Kelli started catching up via Facebook with her first love. She was having a rush of happy memories and emotions, while her husband started feeling pangs of anxiety and jealousy. The couple started talking about what was happening and reversed course before any more damage was done. “We came to the conclusion that having Facebook friendships with exes wasn’t good for our marriage,” says Jason.
Keep in mind that you can be emotionally unfaithful to your spouse just as much as you can be physically unfaithful. Even becoming emotionally involved with someone of the opposite sex puts a hurtful wedge between you and your spouse. Talk to your spouse about what you are both comfortable with and consider ruling out connecting with old flames.
Beyond connecting on social media, the Internet also provides access to the other ugly technological weapon that is destroying marriages by the minute: pornography. Husbands and wives alike can be drastically hurt by the effects of pornography. One 2004 study found that its use is so rampant that 56 percent of divorce cases involved one party being obsessed with pornographic websites (Manning J., Senate Testimony 2004, referencing: Dedmon, J., “Is the Internet bad for your marriage? Online affairs, pornographic sites playing greater role in divorces,” 2002, press release from The Dilenschneider Group, Inc.). In another study, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, polled 350 divorce attorneys in 2003 and found that two-thirds of them reported that the Internet played a significant role in the divorces, with interest in online pornography contributing to more than half of the cases.
According to Dr. Peter Kleponis, a licensed cinical therapist in Conshohocken, PA, the use of pornography is a violation of marital trust to love and honor each other. He explains, “Viewing pornography is akin to breaking these vows because they are in no way a sign of a man’s love, honor and respect for his wife. For these women, the men they married all of a sudden seem like strangers. Many feel like a fool for ever having trusted their husbands. For some women, the violation of trust is so deep that they question if they can go on with their marriage. . . . Pornography invading the home can also lead a wife to feel old, unattractive and sexually undesirable.”
To avoid the kind of serious damage that can come along with pornography, the simplest, safest plan of action is to avoid it all together. Consider using Internet filtering methods to limit the kinds of images that can come into your home and keep an open dialogue with each other about how you will safeguard your marriage.
What to Do
Absolutely use technology in your marriage! But use it to connect when you are apart, to share moments from your day, and even to enjoy a good show or video game together. In other words, use technology to enrich and strengthen your relationship.
But be aware of how you are using technology, and consider whether you are distracted by it. Are you spending more time connecting with others through your gadgets than with the person sitting right next to you? Remind yourself how important this person is to you, and be sure to invest in that relationship first and foremost.
For the health of your marriage, avoid using technology in any way that will damage the trust between you or cause feelings of jealousy, irritation, lack of respect, or unfaithfulness. Have an open discussion about who you will connect with online and agree on reasonable amounts of screen time. Above all, remember that the person you love is right there waiting for, and needing, your attention. Don’t let the little screen take anything away from you.
Easy action steps:
- Think about how you use technology in positive ways to connect with your spouse. How do you regularly reach out with phone calls, emails, and texts when you are apart? The next time your spouse has been away for more than an hour, send a photo or a message that communicates your love.
- Think about how much you use technology in the evening when your spouse is home. Are you spending more time on your phone than you are interacting with your partner? Tonight, make a goal to have your bedroom be technology-free.
- Consider whether you have ever used a social media site to flirt with an old flame or used the Internet to view something that would make your spouse uncomfortable. Make a date to talk to your spouse about rules for using the Internet and commit to only doing what will benefit your marriage.