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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