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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Simple (not easy) steps you can take today to prevent technology from stealing from your marriage.

Do you ever stop to think  how far technology has come just in the past few decades?  Just 20 years ago we didn't commonly carry cell phones. Smart phones didn't come onto the scene until about 10 years ago. What did we do before we had a GPS, music player, alarm clock, web browser, calendar, online games, texting and more right in our pockets and purses?

Technology has brought an amazing amount of convenience and efficiency to our lives, Along with all the benefits, if we aren't careful, technology can also bring some unintended consequences, especially where relationships are concerned.

My wife and I recently enjoyed a wonderful cruise, generously given to us and my wife's family by her parents as a way to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. One nice thing about a cruise is that it's much easier to be offline and disconnected from technology while you are floating in the middle of the ocean, which is what sparked my thinking about this post.

Watchfulness is the notion that we need to be attentive and tuned into our marriages, and it especially applies to technology, because it's so easy for our relationships to suffer at the hands of technology without us even being aware of it.

Here are five danger areas in which we should all be watchful and some simple steps to avoiding the potential pitfalls.

1. Lack of Real Conversation

Our family's monthly phone bill reveals what I think is probably typical of modern communication patterns: thousands of text messages, many gigabytes of data, and hardly any talk-time minutes.  Are we losing the art of genuine conversation? Is communication being reduced to whatever emoticons are available on our phones?

I'm not judging. My wife and I text and instant message during the day much more than we talk on the phone. It's often easier to connect that way due to our busy schedules. The danger is that there is a certain lack of intimacy in electronic communication. No eye contact. No tone. No touch. It's quick, it's efficient, but it isn't a substitute for genuine conversation.

No matter how much electronic communication you have throughout your day, make sure you set aside time each day for actual, genuine, one-on-one, in-person conversation.

2. Losing Focus on Your Spouse

My wife and I attended a "Marriage Game Show" during our cruise. One of the questions asked of the wives was, "First thing in the morning, what is the first thing your husband grabs for?"  Two of the three contestants answered "his phone." One older wife, who was married 44  years and ended up winning the contest, answered "me."  Her husband got the right answer.

You've no doubt seen "that couple" at a restaurant who barely interact with each other because they are staring at their phones all evening. Maybe sometimes you are that couple.  I understand the temptation and have given in to it too many times myself, but lets all agree not to be that couple.

I've seen varying statistics, but one source states that the average phone user checks his or her phone somewhere between 35 and 74 times per day, depending on age group, with younger people checking most frequently. I've also seen a 2013 study with figures as high as 150 times per day.

Maybe you notice what my wife and I notice: online connections tend to break our actual connection. It's like inviting a third (or fourth or fifth) party into your time together. 

If you really have to check on something important, be sure to explain to  your spouse what is so urgent (and make sure that it actually is) and ask for their permission to do so. Something like, "Do you mind if I quick check for a text from Liz?  I'm waiting to hear back from her about our breakfast appointment tomorrow." This would be better than just picking up your phone in mid-conversation and texting Liz. If the text from Liz is what matters, don't slip in a quick peek at Facebook and Instagram while you are at it.

When it comes to your time with your spouse, strive to practice self-control and focus. To the extent possible, when you are spending time together, keep your focus and your hands off your devices and on each other. It might be worth a conversation about device boundaries and limits during your time together, so that you have a common understanding of the ground rules.

3.   Too Little Time for What Matters

One study found that the average person spends 23 days a year on his or her phone. That equates to 90 minutes a day. I wouldn't be so concerned if actually talking on the phone didn't rank sixth in time spent per day. Surfing the web ranked first, followed by using phone apps.

Time is a precious commodity, and seems to become more precious as our lives become more and more hectic. Ask yourself if you really need to spend as much time as you do on your phone or tablet.

I honestly need to look for more ways to limit device time, but it is difficult. My whole life is digital and available on my devices: to-do lists, multiple calendars, bill paying, and note-keeping for my blog, in addition to the usual personal and marriage ministry related social media accounts. I took a game app off of my phone and relegated it to my tablet so that I wouldn't spend as much time playing it. Truthfully, although it helped, I still waste too much time with it.

While I've purposefully tried to limit device time during our cruise vacation, I confess that right now I'm sitting in our stateroom working on this post while the rest of my extended family are relaxing and enjoying our last day on-board. The pressure of not having posted but one time this month finally overtook me today. So this admittedly a pot/kettle situation.

One way to appropriately limit device time is to set some helpful ground rules as a couple. For example, no phones during dinner or in bed or after a certain time of night. An easy one might be to have no phones before a good morning kiss. Talk about it with your spouse, and explore what works for you.

4. On the Job 24/7

In today's world of constant electronic communication, it's easy to constantly carry our job with us wherever we go. Our jobs typically occupy more than just our time; they also tend to occupy a lot of our mental and emotional space as well.

For the first time since I can remember, I've not checked my work email while on vacation. It's both wonderful and terrifying as I watch the number of unread emails climb up over 200. I used to use the excuse that if I didn't check work email during vacation, I would have to just quit my job and not return to work. The pile up would be too much. However, as of this writing I'm still planning to report for work on Monday.

There is a cost for leaving your work at your place of employment. For many of us, our identity is hugely wrapped up in our jobs and our career success. Sadly, it seems to be all too common that marriages take a back seat to careers in terms of time and attention.

It's not reasonable to expect that you should never work late or never check your work email on weekends or evenings, but it would be a really good idea, as with the other technology invaders in this list, to talk to your spouse about how to set healthy boundaries that keep your marriage in the right priority.

5. Inappropriate Content

The devices we have in our pockets and on our desktops give us instant access to the world. That means it's easier than ever today to have access to stuff that we ought to avoid.

I'm encouraged to see that even secular relationship experts are beginning to talk about the dangers of porn and the damage it inflicts on relationships. In addition to pornographic content, our digital devices also make it super-easy to establish or re-establish inappropriate or hidden relationships with people of the opposite sex.

When it comes to inappropriate use of our devices, let me just say: don't do it!

One of the most effective strategies to prevent such things from inflicting damage on your marriage is to have total openness when it comes to electronic devices. Freely share passwords with each other to phones and social media accounts.

Technology has advanced at a stunning rate in the past few decades. As great as these advances have been, we need to remain vigilant to the potential pitfalls and collateral damage that can accompany technology.

What is one small change you could make this week to keep your digital life from negatively impacting your marriage? Have some thoughts to share? Leave a comment.


Anonymous said...

As usual Scott, you knock it out of the park!

I think this is one of those posts that you should re-post quarterly to remind us!

Scott said...

Thanks, Robin. I definitely need continual reminders on this one.

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