If you thought technology’s adverse impact on relationships was confined to those going ‘Facebook official’, think again. Increased reliance on technology and social media use are impacting satisfaction in established relationships to the point where experts have coined the term ‘technoference’. The internet is ripe for exploitation, enabling betrayal that once required more brazen disconnection and/or infidelity. In my private practice, most clients presenting with relationship issues have experienced some form of technoference.
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It has either been the cause of disconnection, or played a role in discovery of infidelity. Some reports suggest that receipt of a text stops up to 70 per cent of face-to-face conversations. So much for the heart-to-heart. Media dependency theory espouses that social mediums such as Facebook can serve as a potential channel for self-disclosure and, potentially, emotional infidelity. They can also encourage and enable physical infidelity by enabling covert meeting arrangements made all the more tantalising by viewing other people’s photographs of travel, domestic bliss and happiness – devoid of the stresses that burden our own lives and relationships.
The more you view someone else’s life with admiration, the less satisfied you are with your own, and in turn your own relationship. In date night terms, time spent looking at phones, reading social media takes us away from real conversations and quality time with partners. While social media is a fact of modern life, the mechanisms that make a relationship successful haven’t kept pace; the most successful relationships are still the ones where communication with each other is a priority, even if it is only for 20 minutes a day. By establishing face-to-face discussions, you not only show your partner that you care about them, but you send the message that conversing with them is more important than that with others in the cyber world. At the extreme end of technoference, phones can enter a kind of ménage a trois, undermining intimacy at the dining table or even in the bedroom.
Recent studies have shown that even the presence of a mobile phone or device on the dining table during dinner degrades conversation and inhibits candid disclosure and vulnerability. Interestingly, further studies reveal a subconscious anti-intimacy note-to-self in the presence of a tech device. I make it a rule with couples in therapy that all devices are switched off during meals, and if possible, for most of the evening. Never is the device allowed into the bedroom. If it feels like a compromise, remember that taking time out to listen to your partner and being fully present can not only help with relationship satisfaction, but can help form intimacy and deeper connection – the value of which will far outstrip the gratification of social media banter. Interestingly, when couples come for therapy to address the issue of a partner cheating, often the reason cited is not being heard or validated. More interestingly, or paradoxically, the unfaithful partner has often used some form of social media or technology to find someone who seems more engaged and interested than their partner. Why not put them both on charge in the study and close the door?