Is Technology Destroying your Relationship?

Is Technology Destroying YourI love my iPhone, and I also think our technological advances are really amazing. However, with many new tech devices, the excessive use and a lack of moderation can be problematic. Most of us would have to admit that we’ve experienced the unpleasantness of “technoference,” the term coined to describe intrusions and interruptions in our life, due to technology devices. This is particularly annoying, however, when it’s interfering with our romantic relationships.

Recent research published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture confirmed these views. It revealed that the majority of participants have been negatively affected by their partner’s use of a device during conversations or meals. These same people also expressed less satisfaction with their relationships and with their overall lives.

Although this study surveyed only women, the findings almost certainly apply equally to men, as well as children. Wouldn’t we all feel slighted if our partner paid less attention to us than to their latest text messages or Facebook updates?

Feeling important and special, particularly to our significant other, helps maintain and strengthens the connection in our relationships. We all need to know we are being heard and acknowledged. Clearly, feeling ignored or unimportant negatively impacts a relationship. Technological devices definitely have the potential to cause damage if they are not used with discretion.

Unfortunately, in today’s tech-dominant world, having someone’s undivided attention is rare. Many people don’t even “unplug” when retiring for the night, much less for a “quality time” date or a private face-to-face conversation. How many couples spend as much as 15 minutes attending to each other, on a regular basis, without distractions? This oversight definitely comes at a cost to the relationship, and can prevent a couple from reaching a deeper level of intimacy.

Our device dependency not only shows disregard for our loved ones, but infringes regularly with the rights and preferences of the general public. Outcry over lack of device etiquette is growing, as evidenced by “turn your phone off” mandates and reminders showing up in an increasing number of places. What first appeared as a directive mostly in theaters and doctor’s offices, has more recently expanded to include restaurants, which are now asking customers to refrain from cell phone use out of consideration for other diners and to prevent longer occupancy of their tables.

In fact, a recent trend exists where restaurants across the country are offering discounts to patrons who will leave their phones at the door! And this new policy is apparently working, with up to 40% of customers complying per one report. A deli in Vermont has even included a penalty by adding $3 to your bill “if you fail to get off the phone while at the counter.” The behavior is declared rude, and holds up the line!

In a Zagat survey earlier this month, most respondents disapproved of texting, tweeting and emailing when dining out. Research also shows that 81% of U.S. adults believe that mobile manners are getting worse, up 6% from last year. Keep in mind that having your phone handy on the table can signal to your partner that you’re not that interested in him or her!

Although annoying at times, technology is not evil and it’s not going away. In fact, in many ways, these high-tech devices can help improve our relationships.

So, how do we combat this “technoference”? I suggest starting with the following recommendations:

1. Discuss the situation with your intimate partner. Is this a serious issue in your relationship? Understanding how your device use negatively affects one another can help motivate a behavior change.

2. Mutually come up with guidelines and rules on when it’s acceptable to use devices in your partner’s presence.

3. Agree on device-free blocks of time together. Develop non-tech hobbies, participate in outdoor sports as a couple, or sign up for a class you’d both enjoy. Or, simply rediscover face-to-face, uninterrupted conversation!

Following the above steps can rekindle your romance, and serve as a reminder of what attracted you to each other in the first place. I’m betting your smart phone didn’t play that big of a role.

Lots of people come to therapy for the undivided attention it provides. If you and your partner can’t find common ground on how to manage the “technoference” in your life, it may be worth pursuing couples counseling.

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Why Marriage Deserves a Better Reputation!

Why Marriage Deserves a Better ReputationDespite media reports and the rampant commentary about the sad state of marriage (including the near ubiquitous notion that 50% of all marriages end in divorce), current research on marriage trends does not support this notion! According to a new Pew Research Center analysis of census data from 2012, one out of five adults ages 25 and older had never been married, compared to one out of 10 adults in the same age range in 1960. The percentage of adults who have never married is at a record high, with those who eventually marry doing so at a later age.

So what makes this increase of the “never married” a positive trend? The main reason is that it means fewer people are making the decision to marry impulsively. Delaying marriage allows us time to understand what qualities are most desired in a partner, as well as more time to find a compatible partner. In addition, postponing that big event until later in life not only allows people time to develop emotional maturity, but to achieve some level of financial security as well. Both factors are strong contributors to marriage stability, and its lasting success.

Another reason more couples are waiting later to marry is likely due to today’s more permissive social attitude. Living together, even having and raising children together, before becoming husband and wife is much more acceptable now. This trend means that more unhappy relationships will end by breaking up, instead of getting a divorce. There’s overall less pressure to marry these days, regardless of the circumstances.

The Pew Research Center data also revealed that the median age of first marriage today is 27 years for females and 29 years for males. In contrast, post-war America of the 1950s represented the earliest ages for marriage, dropping to 20 years for women and 23 years for men. Most marriages that began in the 1950-1960 era were based on traditional role models, with males serving as the breadwinner and females as homemakers. Although partners were dependent on what each other provided, an emotional connection was not top priority in these relationships.

In fact, not until the 1970s, when more women began entering the work force and gained reproductive rights, did the traditional marriage model start to change. This period in history, not surprisingly, had our highest divorce rates, as people’s expectations of marriage partners shifted. The new priority and focus became finding a soul mate, instead of just someone to share financial responsibility and household chores. Once this social upheaval of the 1970s passed, our divorce rate decreased accordingly, and has continued to decline in the decades that followed.

While the popular notion that half of all marriages fail is not accurate, couples with a college degree divorce less frequently than those with less education. Overall, the divorce rates in our country are in fact currently stable and not on the rise. Experts predict that marriages of the 2000s will have even better chances of succeeding as people become more selective when choosing partners and marry for love, not out of need.

The general public also seems to think that the current trend of delayed marriages and lower divorce rates will continue, as the majority of younger adults surveyed cite that society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children. Most survey participants state they would like to marry one day, and feel that couples who plan to stay together long term should eventually marry.

These opinions bode well for a future of marriages with more stable foundations, which benefit both the couples and their families.

Will this trend change the role or focus of couples counseling? Perhaps in some cases. Partners in high-functioning relationships may have greater expectations of each other and maintaining this higher level of connection may require “advanced” professional guidance. But most of the typical issues couples seek counseling for (financial disagreements, sexual issues, communication struggles) will remain unchanged.

If you feel that you need assistance regarding any of your relationship goals, do not hesitate to seek professional help. The current trends on marriage are actually quite positive and reveal interesting data for couples and singles alike.

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Why All Couples Benefit from Premarital Counseling

Why all couples benefit from premarital counseling..Earlier this year, a group in Colorado proposed a ballot measure that would require pre-marital education classes. It even stipulated “course requirements,” calling for 10 hours of pre-wedding education for those marrying for the first time, 20 hours for people contemplating marriage #2, and third timers needing a minimum of 30 hours of premarital instruction/counseling before proceeding down the aisle.

Although this proposal didn’t have enough support to make the ballot in the November election, it was far from a horrible idea. The irony is that while couples balk at investing the time and money to better know their chosen life partner (either through educational classes or pre-marital counseling), they will often freely spend countless more hours and dollars agonizing over wedding day details.

There are, of course, those exceptions when couples do attend pre-marital counseling. Sometimes for religious or faith-based reasons, premarital counseling is required. Otherwise, most couples don’t typically even consider it, and that’s unfortunate. Even when partners think they know each other well, the truth is that all too often, they really aren’t clear on what their significant other expects from a marriage.

I recommend couples counseling prior to marriage for the following reasons:

1. To face your issues; address and not overlook areas of incompatibility with your partner. During the early period of your relationship (known as the Romantic Stage), it’s easy to see each other through “rose-colored glasses,” and ignore or not recognize problems that may severely undermine the relationship in the future (if no discussion or understanding exists in advance).

2. Working with an experienced counselor can help expose potential vulnerabilities or weaknesses in the relationship, and force you to deal with the reality of your particular situation.

3. Premarital counseling can clarify your compatibility regarding important topics such as religious preference, having kids, career and life goals.

4. Discussing and disclosing individual attitudes/spending habits regarding money is such an important and often avoided issue, it deserves its own category. Financial disagreements are overall the biggest issue couples struggle with.

5. Sexual preferences/beliefs/attitudes also stand alone, and definitely merit attention. New (usually young) couples tend to believe that sexual issues will magically go away, when, in reality, they actually tend to get worse.

6. The therapist’s office is a safe place to address concerns that either partner has, that need to be hashed out (such as how much time together/apart is acceptable, or is having opposite sex friends okay).

7. Couples counseling can help you learn together how to successfully resolve conflict and communicate. If you can accomplish this before marriage, you’ll be way ahead of the game! Acquiring these two skills is vital to maintaining a healthy relationship.

8. And last, but definitely not least on the reason list, is divorce prevention. Counseling prior to marriage can help maximize your chances of a successful future together.

What to Expect in Premarital Counseling?

Once couples decide to seek premarital counseling, there are often many questions regarding the actual process. In addition to covering the issues discussed above (finances, career, kids, sex-life, extended family dynamics, communication & conflict-resolution skills), you can expect premarital counseling to address the specific concerns you and your partner have about your relationship.

I would recommend committing to four or five premarital counseling sessions, if there are no obvious problems. If specific issues need to be addressed, then more time might be required.

Remember that the goal of premarital counseling is not just to avoid the mistake of marrying the wrong person, it’s also about highlighting areas in your relationship that need attention. More times than not, shining a spotlight on your relationship and investigating any differences will maximize your satisfaction and happiness together. In many ways, premarital counseling might end up being one of the best investments in your lifetime.

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Prevent Unnecessary Breakups by Understanding Relationship Stages

Prevent unnecessary breakups (1)Unfortunately, many couples evaluate the health and compatibility of their relationship based on romances depicted in Hollywood. However, the “romantic period” is just one of several developmental stages that couples will go through as their relationship progresses, and (hopefully) deepens. The key is not to get stuck in any one stage, which is often what has happened when a couple decides to break up.

According to research conducted by Dr. Susan Campbell (discussed here), there are five relationship stages that couples cycle through, during the course of their relationship. Below are brief descriptions of each one:

1. The Hollywood or Romantic Stage. This phase is akin almost to a drug addiction, as the same feel-good hormones, oxytocin and dopamine, are released in the brain when we’re “high on love.” While it’s a humorous comparison (the main difference being that the love is legal), new partners do tend to see each other through rose-colored glasses. They disregard and dismiss the negatives, if they are even noticed, and focus on hopes and dreams of the future.

2. The Power Struggle Stage. Also referred to as the hangover stage, this era begins when the romance fades away, usually anywhere from a few months to a few years down the road. Now reality kicks in and partners question their compatibility, while clearly seeing each other’s deficiencies and flaws. When couples don’t reach this stage before marriage, they may be more likely to break up.

3. The Stability Stage. If your relationship makes it past Stage #2, and you have learned to work through your issues, love comes back in the picture. It’s a more mature love this time around, as you’ve decided to stay together in spite of your differences. Most couples at this point have given up the desire to change their partner, and have mastered the art of compromise.

4. The Commitment Stage. When you reach this level, you not only love, but typically also like each other, and freely choose to be together without needing to be together. You are committed to your relationship, and realize as humans that we all have inadequacies. This is actually the stage when couples should marry – not in the infatuation period of early romance, as is most common in our society.

5. The Bliss or Co-creation Stage. Although some couples think reaching stage #4 means their work is done, the bliss stage takes things one step further. Here, the couple “team” moves beyond their personal relationship and their focus extends into the world, where they may create a family, a business, or some other project together. It is important to remember during this stage to continue to nurture, and not neglect, your intimate relationship while focusing outward.

Although these stages might seem progressive, they don’t necessarily occur in a particular order. In addition to having a unique pattern for each couple, the stages are cyclical and may revert to a different level at any time. All it takes is another power struggle, and you’re back at Stage #2. Or perhaps you started a family right after the romantic stage, then have to learn about dealing with conflict, reaching compromise, and finding bliss at a later date. Each relationship will move through its own cycle, at its own pace.

Couples who find themselves arguing over and over about the same old issues obviously haven’t worked through the power struggle stage. They may avoid each other, sleep in different rooms, or blow up from time to time, but never fully resolve the conflict. The power struggle stage is the most common stage for couples to get stuck. Often not having the tools to resolve conflict, many couples decide to part ways at this stage, or their relationship just limps along (sometimes miserably). Most likely, everyone knows an example of this unhappy dynamic, as it is so often that couples get stuck here. If you keep getting caught in this vicious cycle, it’s important to not wait before seeking out professional support with a couples counselor, in order to overcome the impasse.

Establishing independence and connection, while also respecting each other’s differences, may seem like a tall order to achieve. Although maintaining a blissful state might not be possible for all couples, the continued effort to grow and improve life together is what’s important, regardless of the current relationship stage we’re cycling through.

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3 Easy Ways to Improve your Relationship: Identify Your Love Languages

3 Ways To Improve RelationshipMany have likely heard about the five love languages, first described in the 1995 book for couples written by Gary Chapman, Ph.D., with later books applying the concept to children and also to singles.

In summary, he describes the following five ways of expressing and experiencing love with your partner:

1. Receiving gifts. In this language, a tangible expression from his or her significant other is what makes this mate feel special, appreciated and loved.

2. Spending quality time together. Just the two of you, focused on each other, is deemed most valuable here.

3. Words of affirmation. Verbal or written expressions of love, consideration, understanding, and praise from an intimate partner speak volumes.

4. Acts of service. Helping with needed tasks or chores (especially without having to be asked!) is a much appreciated, valued expression of love.

5. Physical touch. Not necessarily a sexual act; perhaps holding hands or getting a foot massage is more meaningful.

According to Chapman, we not only express emotional love in one of the above five ways, but we each tend to have a primary or preferred method. There is a quiz on his website that can help you determine your primary love language, and it ranks the strength of each of the others, according to your cumulative answers. However, some people may not find one clear preference standing above the rest, but perhaps two or three love expressions of equal or closely ranked importance.

Chapman further points out that everyone needs to receive emotional love, but the major key to how well this is accomplished is in how it’s delivered. We should not use the love languages that we like the most, but rather the love languages that are most important to our loved ones.

There are three ways to help discover your primary love language:

1. Observe how you naturally express your love to others. If you’re inclined to hug, then physical touch is a preference. Do you tend to verbalize your feelings, or show them through other actions? This can clue you in as to which of the five languages you favor.

2. Notice what you complain about to your partner. “You never give me gifts/never compliment me/never touch me unless I initiate it” may reveal your primary love language. Even if it’s not necessarily your main one, if you’re complaining, it’s up there.

3. Similar to #2, but stated more positively: Think about what you ask for the most. Do you need more cuddle time, more date nights, more verbal affirmations, or tokens of love from your partner? This determination can also help in discovering your primary expression.

It’s important to realize that knowing your own favorite love language(s) is only half the battle; you want to know your partner’s preferences as well. I recommend that couples take Chapman’s quiz individually, explore the three ways described above to help each identify his or her primary love language, and then compare the results. In order for each partner to feel loved, it’s important to make efforts that matter most to one another. In other words, direct most of your efforts at speaking your partner’s top one or two love languages.

Suggested steps to improve your relationship using the five love languages:

1. Take the quiz twice, answering once for you and once as you think your partner would, and have him or her do the same. (Answering for your partner will provide valuable information as to how far off, or close, you were to knowing what your partner prefers.) This could also provide interesting and beneficial info for future conversations, depending on the state of your connection. Remember that in addition to the quiz, some couples may need to reflect on the three ways discussed above, to help pinpoint their primary love language(s).

2. Discuss with your partner the specifics and details of speaking their primary love language. For example: What types of gifts are appreciated? Which acts of service really matter? What words of affirmation are most important? What kind of physical touch does your partner value the most?

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