Social media is literally everywhere. It is the way we share pieces of ourselves, receive news, connect with friends and family, and most of all, occupy our time. It is truly difficult to look around and not find at least one person in the room looking at their phone. It is entirely possible that they could be texting someone, checking up on emails, or even shopping. Just about everything that we do today has been condensed into an electronic rectangle that sits in our pocket. While this is the norm, we often neglect to observe the impact it may have on our relationships, especially romantic ones.
As someone who has grown up being integrated into the world of having a phone at all times, I have observed how we all behave in regard to ourselves and our virtual spaces. Additionally, I am no white knight myself, as I too engage in multiple platforms of social media, text, call, check my email, etc. But as a couple’s therapist and someone who wishes to understand how our social world impacts our relationships, the behaviors I’ve seen have been very thought provoking.
One example that continuously stands out to me took place when I went out to eat with my girlfriend. I looked a few tables over and saw what appeared to be a couple sitting across from one another. You would think, “Oh look, another happy couple getting a night out together away from their hectic lives”. The funny thing about this situation is that they were both steadily looking at their phones scrolling away at what I could simply assume was a social media website. Normally this is shrugged off, but I kid you not: this couple did not budge from their phones for longer than a few seconds in the entire time my girlfriend and I ordered, ate, and paid the check.
While practicing as a therapist, I’ve seen many couples present concerns about their and their partners’ use of technology. These concerns have varied from issues with self-esteem to trust and jealousy. Realistically, we should be considering that such issues should not be considered abnormal. After all, apps such as Instagram and Snapchat allow us to share various versions of ourselves and even conceal the parts that we wish to hide from the rest of the world. So, the thought of us thinking less of ourselves or worrying about whether our partners are engaging romantically with someone other than us isn’t too far-fetched.
The great influence of technology has left the ground underneath our relationships a bit unstable. However, this does not have to be the case. We don’t have the power to stop the world from advancing (and let’s be honest – technological advances can be pretty convenient!). What we do have the power to do is build our relationships to withstand the challenges of our evolving society. You may be asking “What can I do?” Well, I have four tips to abide by; not only to prepare and stabilize your relationship from the beginning, but also manage it in our ever socially connected world.
4 Ways to Stay Connected
Establish boundaries from the start of the relationship
The beginning of our relationships are filled with wanderlust and an abundance of positive feelings. We become so infatuated with our partners to the point that we can hardly imagine there ever being challenges to the relationship at all, never mind the technological ones.
It is imperative that we communicate our expectations with our partners from the very beginning. This includes sharing wants, needs, and desires from the relationship that establish clear boundaries with regards to those voiced areas. When clear boundaries are established, we become aware of what lines should and should not be crossed. Those that don’t do this run the risk of behaving in ways that could distance our partners away from us. Distance can fuel what Gottman termed the four horsemen (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling). Technology can be one of those areas we communicate about. People have different opinions about interacting with technology, social media, and our relationships.
Open up to your partner about your feelings surrounding technology in both current and past experiences. Set those boundaries early, and maintain them, as it will ensure that you and your partner’s wants and needs are respected, bringing you closer to one another.
Don’t do anything on social media that you wouldn’t want your partner doing to you.
We’ve already touched on the various apps which allow us to pick and choose which parts of ourselves we want to reveal to, or conceal from the world. Sometimes this includes behaviors that would go against the “contract” of the typical romantic relationship.
To put this into perspective, no one likes to be betrayed by those we care about. In this case, it is wise to not engage with other potential partners or post things about your relationship that would upset your partner. Engaging in secret behaviors will only distance ourselves further from those we care about. A lot of people who engage in extradyadic relationships see through an opportunity cost lens, and think something or someone out there has something better to offer than what we have. Rule one should establish the grounds for full transparency with your partner. If this is done correctly, we should be able to communicate thoughts, concerns, and complaints and feel that our partner’s will respond to us and create a collaborative effort to make the relationship better rather than abandoning ship at the first opportunity.
We learned the old saying “treat others the way you would like to be treated”. This should be incorporated into our romantic relationships by all means as well. Don’t behave online in a way that you wouldn’t want your partner to do as well.
Establish a weekly date night
When I say date night, that doesn’t have to mean you have to treat yourselves to an expensive night out because that can surely add up in the bank account. Date nights can be as simple as staying in to watch a movie together, going bowling, or going on a walk.
Set aside time each week to spend together to reconnect and to maintain that connection. These moments are your opportunity for you and your partner to communicate about how your individual lives are going, build on your appreciation for one another, and to engage romantically with one another. Find what works for you and your partner, but setting time aside to build on your relationship should be a priority for you and your partner.
Our lives will always be filled with hectic schedules and endless obligations, but our relationships should not be placed on the back burner for the sake of those other commitments. Time is of the essence nowadays, so put some of it towards a part of your life that requires round the clock nurturing.
Put the technology away during time spent together
Our lives are so busy that finding time to spend together to empower our relationships starts looking like a frugal concept. My advice is to put the phones away and be present when you are spending time with your partner. We feel wanted and assured of the security of our relationships when our partners pay attention to us. It becomes difficult to do that when we spend time on our phones and fail to recognize how our partner’s may be feeling and/or reacting to our lack of attention to the needs and desires they express. Overall, it is best to limit the amount of distractions that you have possible control over to be both involved and present with your partner when spending that intimate time together.
If technology use is a significant struggle in your relationship and you need additional help, don’t keep putting of addressing this issue. Contact us today to schedule your first appointment.