Digital Delirium Part 1: electronic devices and marriage
by Dr. Dave Currie
Between my cellphone, iPad and laptop, digital technology has made my life better. I can do life faster and more efficiently. I depend on it daily. I rely on it deeply. I am seriously bent out of shape if one of my devices is not cooperating. Convenience to life – yes. Enhancement to life – yes. Permanence to life – yes.
But is there more? What is the overall impact of our culture’s digital delirium? Are there any negative effects on our most important relationships? It appears so.
During the last year in my private practice, I have had three couples come desperately needing help to create digital boundaries for their marriage. Each felt their spouse’s cellphone attachment was causing mounting and damaging stress between them. I am convinced that what these couples have recognized is just the tip of the iceberg. The impact of device addiction on the current version of marriage is deeply significant. Here’s what I am seeing as some of the effects of digital imbalance:
Damaging Distractions in the Present
• Skewed priorities develop. Activities and people that were once central to our world are set aside for a new loyalty and preoccupation to the digital flavour of the month. Whether it’s a new app or a well-worn standard one, their attraction repeatedly lures us away to our technological mistress and away from building genuine ties with our mate.
• Significant time wasted. Why not put a stopwatch on your daily use of digital devices for one week? The clock doesn’t lie. Where are your minutes and hours slipping away? Facebook, Clash of Clans, Snapchat, You Tube, interacting or gaming of any kind – look at the time spent with your face in the screen. Interesting how you can fritter away two to three hours a week (a kind estimate) online but not have time for a date with your spouse.
• Social boundaries blur. It appears people will say and do things through a keyboard or a camera they would never do in person. Values fade and relational limits get distorted. Perhaps this compromise happens because we think we are not hurting anyone, that nobody will know, that it’s just a joke or innocent fun. Flirting with others, sexual talk, dirty jokes, taking dares, exchanging questionable photos and more draw us inadvertently closer to another person other than our mate.
• Secrets are stored. What are you hiding? Are there things on your phone you don’t want your spouse to see like photos, chats or connections with people that would damage your primary relationship? Are you guarding your phone like a dog on a bone? Do you withhold passwords and get furious feeling your privacy is being invaded if they ask? Enough said. You are out of line. Relational confusion and its power over you grow in secret.
• Selfishness unleashed. Do you watch or read material that is destructive to your marriage? Do you erase your search history to hide what’s going on? Do you pursue relationships online without your spouse’s knowledge? Dating sites? Chat rooms? Discreet affair sites? Are you hooked on pornography? The online world can feed deep and dark pastimes and draw you away farther from your spouse.
I believe this is just the beginning for sorrows. How will all this technology impact the future of our most important relationships? Some may call my projections speculation but I may be one of the more experienced family experts to be able to prognosticate the extent of the digital distance forthcoming in marriage. Frankly, it seems to be happening already. Here’s what I believe is on the relational and thus marital horizon.
Developing Dysfunction in the Future
• Misunderstandings will increase. Less and less communication will be face-to-face and more misinterpretations, stresses and fights will result. Remember, only seven per cent of our communication is expressed by our words; with 38 per cent attributed to our tone or attitude and 55 per cent body language. We miss a ton when we only text or email. With no eye contact, no sense of heart or intent and no way to read their body, we really are guessing as to the true meaning. And no, emoticons are not enough.
• Patience will be a lost virtue. ‘Instant messaging’ says it all. We want to know now! We want answers now! We want a response NOW! Friction will literally grow by the minute when we get no response. We will continue to grow this immediate need to resolve things fast. Our relational exasperation through impatience could poison a good relationship. This is never good for resolving conflicts.
• Deep conversations will fade. With a strict budget on communication, most will struggle with the longer interactions that build close connection. Their real social skills will be lacking. Initially, they will be pushing the “get to the point” approach but in reality, they will not have learned how to settle in and really listen and engage. Long talks in person become less the norm. Relational shallowness will pervade.
• Restraint will dwindle. People will continue to develop bravado in speaking their mind through texts and emails. In reactionary moments, pushing send with an angry response is much like saying “so there”! But remember, hurtful written statements are permanent and can be saved and brooded over for decades – every word, every sentence reviewed to deepen the resentment.
What’s a wise, technologically savvy person supposed to do? Can you be relationally close to your spouse if you are digitally addicted? Stay tuned for Digital Delirium Part 2: Creating Wise Digital Boundaries for Marriage.
I’d love to hear from you. Tell me how bad it is out there. Go to www.DoingFamilyRight.com and leave me your comments. You’ll never regret putting your marriage and family first.