Unplug and Tune-In

By Christie Hunt, LMHC

Do you remember your first cell phone? Was it before cell phones had apps, touch screens, and text messaging? Was it when cell phones could barely fit in your pocket and had an antenna? Did you enjoy listening to music on your Sony Walkman or recording your favorite show on VHS? Technology isn’t anything like it used to be. It is transforming and expanding at a rapid pace. It is changing every aspect of the way we live our lives. We can see how our own behaviors have changed over the years as cell phones, televisions and computers evolve and become “smarter”. Technology has the ability to expose relationships to the dangers of conflict, distraction, and temptation. However, it can also increase intimacy, affection, and connectedness in couples if they utilize it effectively.

In relationships, how we communicate with our partner and how they receive the information communicated to them is key. Technology can interrupt these interactions. Dr. John Gottman, executive director of the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle and well known for his work on marital stability, has developed two concepts significant to couples’ communication and connectedness.
A “Bid” is a verbal and nonverbal gesture for positive connection. It can be a request for conversation, affection, or support – such as “How does my outfit look?” “Will you help me with the dishes?” “Let’s go for a walk!” When presented with a Bid, it is crucial that the partner recognize it and Turn Toward them – acknowledging the Bid with a positive verbal or nonverbal response. “Turning Toward” is an essential tool for couples to learn because it helps with avoiding conflict and disengagement.

The opposite of Turning Towards is Turning Away or Against. Both are equally as damaging to the relationship. Here is where technology can become destructive in relationships. When a partner Turns Away from their partner they are simply ignoring the bid – distracted by their cell phone or television show. Turning Against is more intrusive – “What do you want? I’m trying to watch the game?” “Can’t you see I’m busy? Ugh”. Technology can distract couples from connecting emotionally with their partner which will lead to disengagement.

When your gadget becomes the center of your attention, it becomes the most important thing in your life. It is your primary relationship. Everything else comes second – your marriage, your family, your relationship with God. We are called to serve our spouse. “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13) When we’re plugged into our cell phones or other media, we lack awareness of their needs and don’t respond to their requests for love. Conflict emerges or worse, couples become disengaged.

As technology rises, most of our attention can fall victim to social media. Satan is the expert of temptation and distraction – distracting Christians from our responsibilities in a marriage; tempting the flesh. When a couple is emotionally disengaged or in conflict, they become vulnerable to external factors. A partner can use an online chat room to find and create an extramarital affair. Broken relationships are more susceptible to emotional affairs when one partner is motivated by their flesh. “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:16)

Social media makes it easier for a partner to find and emotionally connect with someone outside the relationship. Pornography addiction is on the rise among men and women. Its increasing availability on the internet is having a negative impact on relationships – escalating conflict, insecurity, loneliness, and isolation.

Here are some ways in which you can minimize the negative effects of technology in your relationship:

Remove cell phones and television at dinner time: By doing so, this will allow for more intimate conversation between you and your partner

• Schedule date nights and leave the cell phones in your purse or pocket, better yet set them on off or mute as well.

• Set limits on where and when you can use your tablet/cell phone and television

• Talk to your partner about removing the television from the bedroom to allow for intimate time before bed.

• Set time limits for media use such as gaming

• Discuss sharing social media passwords with your partner

In this digital age, couples have been able to also utilize the advances in technology to their advantage. Stay tuned for my next blog regarding the blessings of technology in relationships.