Can Your Relationship Health Improve With Less Screen Time?

Distracted on the Phone

Technology is increasing it’s demands on us. Human attention bestowed upon fellow humans is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity. According to the Pew Research Center, 25% of cell phone owners in a marriage or partnership have felt their partner was engaged in too much screen time while they were together, and 8% have had arguments about the amount of time a partner was spending online. Issues involving the regulation of technology preoccupy a full 10% of all couples. Another study at Brigham Young University confirms that a growing number of couples struggle with technology and intimate relationships.

It’s surprising to learn that unfriending your significant other online can actually help your relationship.

Esther Perel often discusses how when you are in a relationship where there is an element of mystery and unpredictability, the quality of human attention becomes enhanced. The research is trickling in. If you want to keep your intimate relationships optimally intimate, put a cap on technology, and that especially means phones.  Social media, blogs, entertainment (don’t get me started on porn…), all complicate the delivery and acceptance of precious open-handed and open-hearted human attention.

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Is Your Screen Time at your Employer’s Beck and Call?

How can you know if technology is having too great a say in how you are choosing to communicate with your family?

  • You are saying things in email that you’d never feel comfortable saying to strangers, your partner, or your children in person. It is useful to think of being on a line as a cognitive impairment. Second-guess everything you send as if you’ve “had a few.” The temptation to vent online can be alluring. The internet is a medium of subtle distortion and complete insularity. People have rude conversations online that they would never have in person. The internet has a parallel and somewhat debased sense of etiquette.
  • Master Couple Therapist Ellyn Bader tells us that we should be curious instead of furious, and this is particularly important when we are talking about texting and screen time. Be careful how you choose your words in every electronic message you send, and in whatever context you send them in. Respect the limitations of the screen, and be curious about all misunderstandings first. Every Internet message you send becomes a permanent part of who your digital identity. Remember the old Persian proverb that warns “You are the master of every unspoken word. Once a word is spoken, it is the master of you.”How rude are you with friends and family on line? Don’t let screen time be scream time.

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  • Your relationships are negatively impacted by the poor quality of your online communication.  This is a big issue that I discuss with my couples on a regular basis. It’s far too easy to injure your partner online than in person, because, for all of its convenience, at the end of the day, non-verbal communication,  (which is up to 90% of our juicy in-person communication) is utterly absent. Texting may be convenient, but it is not an ideal way to conduct an awkward conversation.
  • This is a big issue that I discuss with my couples on a regular basis. It’s far too easy to injure your partner online than in person, because, for all of its convenience, at the end of the day, non-verbal communication,  (which is up to 90% of our really juicy in-person communication) is utterly absent. Texting may be convenient, but it is not an ideal way to conduct a difficult conversation.
  • You are Allowing Yourself to be at your Employers’ Beck and Call. I chose that phrase carefully. We all know what it means to be “on call.” But the word ‘beck’ is particularly applicable to our technology top-heavy culture.  The word “Beck” is merely an abbreviation of the word ‘beckon,’ which we mean to  ‘to signal silently, by a nod or motion of the hand or finger, indicating a request or command.’ Like a vibrating phone. And that’s what the personal use technology without personal boundaries means. You are permitting your boss or colleagues to “beckon you” to attend to their work-related needs and concerns at will.  Their screen time is your screen time. Part of this acquiescence probably stems from our real fear of missing something important, so as a result, we prioritize work over family, and relieve our anxiety by expanding our workplace availability. Attending to career, instead of our families.
  • Have a Conversation With Your Partner and Draw the Line. The only way a workplace culture can change is when you push back at it until family boundaries are firmly established. And only you can draw that line. A little digital dry-out might be good for the soul. Give it a try and see what happens.

 

About the Author Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.

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