Improving Intimacy: Disconnect and Unplug

Couple playing chess outsideAre you more intimate with your phone, tablet, or computer screen than you are with people in your relationships? Nearly every couple I have worked with has mentioned some form of technology as a complaint in their relationship. Some couples have relatively larger concerns that involve secrecy and deceit, while some couples are seeking more “face time” with their partners, and less screen time. Below are common, everyday technology connections that may be impacting your intimacy, connection to others, and relationships.

Facebook and Other Ways We Connect: Relationship-Killer-Dot-Com?

While Facebook can be a fantastic opportunity to interact and update intimate friends and family about the events and experiences in our lives, it can also threaten the intimacy of the relationships right before your eyes. Facebook and search engines are also a slippery slope. Former lovers, former crushes, and “just friends” are just a click away — far more accessible to us than in previous generations.

If Facebook is an issue in the relationships I serve in my private practice, I encourage clients to devise rules and expectations. If Facebook is impeding the therapeutic goals of my couples, I often refer to Facebook as “Relationship-Killer.com,” and encourage my clients to shut down their page permanently or for an agreed-upon amount of time.

The Trap of Texting

Are you texting too much in an effort to feel connected to others? You know who you are! Has a friend or lover called you out on your nose being buried in a phone while at lunch, in the car together, or at an event? While I strongly encourage clients to keep in touch with their partners throughout the day if it’s appropriate and doesn’t impede other relationships or work performance, I also caution these couples to be cautious about texting others while with each other.

Many couples struggle with this. They push back, saying, “Well, I can do two things at once.” They are confident that they can discuss date night with a partner and text a sibling at the same time. While this is debatable, it does challenge intimacy and authentic engagement with the person in front of you.

Just a Job: Managing Work Communication

At the end of the day, no job in the world is more important than being accessible, reliable, and engaged with our loved ones. Yes, there are gray areas: certain times of year that demand more from us professionally, or a big project that demands extra attention. In fact, technology and global markets may even have us accommodating various time zones.

However, these are exceptions, not the rule. We must set boundaries with our work-related email and texting. Like I tell my clients, if you retire, lose your job, or get fired, who will you need support from? Hint: the people living life around you as you peck away at your keyboard.

Games on Our Gadgets

Games as entertainment and connection have long been a part of the human experience across time and cultures, but has technology impacted the connection component? Though I agree with “turning our brains off” and doing something that frees us from major processing and decision making, I’m not yet convinced that playing games on our phones to kill time, or simply have something to do, has the same positive impact of sitting face-to-face with a loved one.

I have actually assigned board games to couples and families as a weekly “slow down and reconnect” opportunity (they report enjoying this change of pace, by the way). There seems to be a plethora of fun and entertaining options online, but when our smart phone makes us human-connection-deprived, I encourage clients to consider what they might be avoiding by keeping their nose pointed at their phones and not sniffing out what is happening around them in their families and relationships.

Rules of Technology for Enriching Intimacy:

  • Driving together: Technology in the car is for music (sing together!) or navigation. Technology is not for the passengers to tune out to text, check email, watch a movie, or engage in online activities.
  • Dinner time: Have at least one meal a day at the table without television, phones, tablets, or handheld games. Dinners are a fantastic opportunity to check in, catch up and reconnect.
  • Bedtime: I remember years ago reading a suggestion about enhancing sleep by making bedrooms for sex and sleeping only. The article suggested removing the television; well, today I declare that bedrooms should be phone-, tablet-, and laptop-free! There is nothing less sexy then checking work email in bed and discovering office politics rearing its ugly head, or realizing you have forgotten a major task!

Get back to the basics, folks. The humans near you are there for a reason. Get engaged, be accessible, and be reliable. Go forth and unplug!

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Denise Onofrey, MA, LMFTC, therapist in Englewood, Colorado

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Melissa

    Melissa

    June 26th, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    You might have a relationship problem if… you enjoy your time online and on the phone more than you enjoy spending time with your partner!

  • Neglected

    Neglected

    June 26th, 2013 at 11:09 PM

    For me the problem is my husband’s work mail and phone calls.he hardly spends time on social networking or even watching television,but being the workaholic that he is,there is always more work to be done.This hardly gives us any together time and is hurting the intimacy as well.I suggested a vacation but knowing that his Blackberry will accompany him it doesnt seem like its going to help.

  • Gail Appel

    Gail Appel

    June 27th, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    I have been in practice as a psychotherapist treating sex and love addiction for over 30 years and have found that as the number and range of sites (including various chat rooms, dating/hook up and porn sites) on the internet have grown the occurrence of sex and love addiction has dramatically increased.

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