The latest version of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health (DSM) has a new designation for something that we’ve known about for some time. The DSM-5 has a diagnosis of “Internet Gaming Disorder”. There are additional expansions on this being considered for addition in the next revision such as Social Media and Digital Device Addiction.
As a couple’s counselor, I see that widespread use of digital devices has become a cause of disconnection between couples and families. What kind of meaningful connections or significant relationships can you cultivate when digital devices are taking your time and attention? One client called social media a ”time-sucking vampire.” I thought that was an apt description of overuse of technology. It’s no wonder why people often feel stressed and pressed for time; feeling like there are not enough hours in the day to do everything they need to do for themselves and their jobs, let alone the family. How will they find time to connect with each other in any kind of meaningful way?
Reliance on digital technology cuts into the real connections that people share
When he sits up late streaming videos or playing games and she is on Facebook on her phone, they may be miles away in thought and intention even when sitting together in the same room. Imagine the missed opportunities to connect with one another! They’re having fewer conversations, making fewer plans to spend time together and the two hours they may have been intimate or sexually active were taken up by their use of technology and time spent on digital devices. I was recently out to dinner with my wife at a restaurant and observed an entire family at another table with everyone in the party looking at their cellphones. I actually timed it. For about 15 minutes not one word was spoken between them. This was a sad reminder to me of how this reliance on digital technology is pervasive through the family.
Extreme addiction and overdependence on technology can lead to infidelity
On the extreme end of the spectrum is the addiction, but there are all levels of use and overuse including infidelity. This use of technology has also contributed to the rise of a new kind of infidelity. The smartphone and tablet make it infinitely easier to have private conversations through chat and private messaging. One can connect with a third party and have an emotional connection, sex chat, watch pornography or live sex cameras within two feet of their partner sitting there. I’ve been dismayed to have become aware of how often this has occurred in couples that have come to see me in the midst of a relationship crisis. It only takes a click on a link from a curious user to go down a rabbit hole of Internet links that can ultimately lead to the creation of a fantasy universe online where anything and everything is available to them. The danger is that this turns into addiction which carries all the addict’s behavior; secrecy, lying, cheating and has the addict going to any lengths they need to in order to get their “fix.”
As we become more dependent upon technology for work and personal assistance, is there an answer for those who are getting too dependent? I believe there is. As a relationship advice, I recommend breaks from social media in particular and sometimes a “digital detox” which has been found to be beneficial for individuals and couples who feel like they are spending too much time with devices and technology.
Moderation is the key to managing technology and social media
As with most addictive substances, abstinence or moderation is the key to managing technology and social media. Some find abstinence possible in short bursts, so the digital detox is recommended on a prescribed schedule. The subject will abstain from the use of social media and devices, devoting themselves to meaningful personal interactions with their partners and family members. Client’s report back that they feel lighter and less stressed after the initial period of detoxing, and are amazed at what they were able to accomplish without the use of devices and digital technology. Couples who follow this relationship advice are more freely able to connect with one another and spend that “found” time with one another and their children. They often go back to their use of their devices after the detox with a new awareness of the negative impact the use of these devices can have on their relationships and real-world interactions.
Keep your online interactions with others to a minimum
For others who use devices in moderation, I counsel them to be wary of overuse and to keep their online interactions with others to a minimum and to instead concentrate on the joys and fun of having a loving and attentive partner. I advise that they do more activities together, to make memories, to be present and at the moment with their partners.
Final take away
It’s crucial to connect in an emotional way and to cultivate their physical relationship. Remember this important relationship advice that there’s no substitute, for the interactions between loving couples. No digital device or use of technology can bring the satisfaction and feeling of love and importance that connecting with your partner can.
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More by Stuart Fensterheim