The Distracted Partner: Competing with Technology for His/Her Attention
Unless you live in a hand-hewn cabin in the woods, you probably experience a daily, overwhelming lust for technology.
Your fingers flit over the face of your iPhone. Twitter vies for your attention, constantly throwing out new lines. You nuzzle into the familiar embrace of television … only to find your eyes wandering over to the gaming station. And Facebook relentlessly pursues with its promise of virtual voyeurism.
We are tantalized by technology. What’s worse, so are our partners. But when our significant other falls for this same seduction, we often fail to see the charm. Digital advances mean we must compete with an increasing number of technological suitors for our partner’s attention.
How do you get your partner to disconnect from his/her gadgets long enough to connect with you?
Know Your Rivals
We spend about 2.8 hours a day watching TV, roughly half of our leisure time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many women claim to be “sports widows” for the duration of football, basketball and/or baseball season. And women can just as easily get lost in the tangles of television: dramas, sitcoms, talk shows, soap operas and reality shows.
Gaming consumes 10% of our time spent online, according to a survey by Nielsen. Men seem especially vulnerable to this siren song. A study led by Fumiko Hoeft of the Stanford University School of Medicine reveals the portions of the brain associated with reward and addiction are more active in men when playing a simple video game.
Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter account for nearly 23 percent of our time spent online, according to Nielsen. Social media combines communication and gadgetry, appealing to both women and men. But women are the most avid users of social media. According to Oxygen Media and Lightspeed Research, among women age 18-34:
- 39% refer to themselves as Facebook “addicts”
- 34% get on Facebook first thing in the morning (before going to the bathroom or brushing their teeth)
- 21% check Facebook in the middle of the night
Some people enjoy being connected electronically as much as they do physically. The effect is similar to playing a slot machine, according to David Greenfield, psychologist and founder of the Center of Internet Behavior. A response such as winning money reinforces and validates your original behavior. You may not win every time, but odds are you’ll eventually get something good. The same goes for checking your email 20 times a day or visiting countless websites. We get a shot of dopamine (a pleasure chemical) too, prompting us to crave more, more.
Cell or Smart Phones
A phone can be the biggest little barrier in your relationship. It’s always there … on dates, on the treadmill, by your bed. The phone is often the most unshakeable form of technology. After all, that incoming text or call could be important. Then again, so is your relationship.
It is especially difficult to witness your partner “cheating” on you with multiple technologies at once. The amount of time spent watching TV while simultaneously surfing the Internet grew 34.5% in 2009. When you indulge in multiple forms of technology at once, the opportunities to connect with your partner are even more remote.
Simply knowing what you are up against isn’t enough … you need to establish peaceful terms with the role of technology in your relationship. Here’s how to break through the digital noise and reconnect with your partner:
Conquer the Digital Divide
Before you complain about your partner’s tech fetish, examine your own. Do you spend more time checking your phone or email than speaking with your partner? Do you sulk when your partner asks you to unplug? Are you really upset that your partner is on the laptop again … or just that he/she is monopolizing it?
You don’t have to retreat to the woods—just shelf your tech toys once and a while. Take a 1-3 day fast from all but essential electronic communications. Encourage your significant other to do the same. Debrief afterward—did you feel panicky, peaceful or a combination of both? As a couple, decide on reasonable boundaries for the use of technology. Are you comfortable putting your phones away, at least on dates and in bed? Can you find a regular time to enjoy a tech-free ritual together (having coffee, taking a walk, enjoying a sit-down meal, etc.)?
Use technology to bond
Don’t rely on any form of technology as the primary way to connect with your partner. Still, if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em. Text sweet nothings into your partner’s digital ear. Pick up that second controller and play a game or two. Take advantage of technology’s ability to bring people together, not just push them apart.
We all need an escape sometimes … and technology serves legitimate practical and social needs. However, technology cannot—and should not—replace meaningful, focused and face-to-face interactions with your partner.