The way we communicate has changed significantly over the past few decades. As someone born in the 70s, I grew up with the options of face-to-face, telephone (attached to the wall) or the written word. Period.
Now, many kids never learn cursive writing and most homes don’t have a landline telephone at all. A lot of communication, even face-to-face, is virtual.
As a therapist who practices relationship counselling, I find that the explosion of communication devices may have its advantages, but the misuse, or overuse, of those devices can be very destructive for couples.
Unfortunately, with the popularity of online dating sites, many couples ‘meet’ each other through text messages on their Smartphones, and texting becomes their default means of communication.
Here are a few ways in which our phones are often used inappropriately in relationships:
Engaging in high conflict discourse via text
Texting is not an appropriate means of communication when dealing with sensitive issues. It lacks context and is vulnerable to misinterpretation. You can’t hear someone’s tone, see their facial expression, their lilt or emphasis on certain words. And then there are the frequent errors thanks to overzealous auto-correct programs that can lead to either hilarity or crisis. Texting should be used for simple messages such as, “I will be 5 minutes late” or “Could you please pick up some milk?” If there is something important you need to resolve, wait until, ideally, you can discuss it in person. If you worry you will get too emotional to talk, write down what you want to say and read it, or if you have to, give it to your partner to read.
Engaging with others via smartphone while with your partner
All too often, one member of a couple complains that the other is always on his/her phone, even when they are spending time together. This partner feels devalued, ignored and rejected. The accused often suffers from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), or work-related pressure to be connected and responsive at all times. When you’re spending time together, your partner has to be your priority. If you can’t turn off your phone and spend time alone with your partner, you have to ask yourself why? Work responsibilities can often seem overwhelming, but no one, short of the President of the United States, should have to be accessible 24/7. It also isn’t healthy for anyone to deprive themselves of physical and mental breaks from their work. Having to be on one’s phone constantly during waking hours suggests to me that one’s life is dangerously out of balance.
Spending more time playing games on your phone
Doing this during leisure time than spending time with your partner? It is shocking how much time many people spend playing video games or engaging in betting and sports pools at the expense of their partner. It is only natural that someone in a high-stress job involving a lot of interaction wants to disengage at night to unwind, but this doesn’t have to be done alone in front of a screen. Creating intimacy with your partner doesn’t have to involve deep conversation. Snuggle up in front of a movie, listen to music and/or read together, or do yoga or meditation.
We are all social beings that need connection. While the explosion of communication technologies can help connect you to others who are far away, they can also easily disconnect you from the person you are closest to. Prioritize your partner and your relationship. Set limits on how, and how much you use your Smartphone.
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More by Erica Berman