Friday, February 18, 2011

Breaking Up With Technology to Save Your Relationship

Wake up. Check your email. Check Facebook. Check Twitter. Check your email again. Receive a text. Respond to said text. Repeat.

Does this sound like your typical morning? In today's world, it's probably not too far off for many. From smartphones to iPads, new and innovative ways for people to stay connected continue to emerge. We never need to be without the latest snippet of news or more than a click away from anyone who would like to communicate with us. But what price are we paying for the world of conveniences offered by this technology?

In a New York Times article called "Attached to Technology and Paying a Price," Matt Richtel reports, "Our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information... The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive." According to Richtel, "More primitive parts of the brain, like those that process sight and sound, demand that it pay attention to new information." We get addicted to the excitement that accompanies an incoming message, and it overrides everything else in that moment - even our significant others.

In the age of the smartphone, the flashing notification of an incoming email, Facebook post, or text message can interrupt our lives at any given moment, and this is bad news for our loved ones who are vying for our attention. We are not able to hold conversations without our eyes flickering to check our phones or our hands involuntarily reaching for the mouse to react to an incoming email.

We are so addicted to that dopamine squirt that we don't want to miss a possible stimulation - so we spend hours engrossed in our social media, seeking out electronic conversations, and checking our phones in hopes that an incoming message will feed our addictions. As a result, our partners feel like they are taking a backseat to the god of technology. Technology is robbing our relationships of quality time characterized by giving our full, undivided attention to the other.

So while it's welcome in moderation, what can we do when technology seems to take over our lives and distract us from what really matters? I propose the following ideas for "breaking up" with this unwelcome mistress:

1. Don't accept work emails or phone calls at home. Reporting on a poll conducted by The New York Times, Marjorie Connelly wrote, "People seem to find it hard to shut down after work. Almost 40 percent check work e-mail after hours or on vacation." Don't fall into this trap. If possible, leave your work at the office. Set the precedent to others that you will be unavailable via phone or email after normal work hours. Use your evenings and weekends to concentrate on your personal life - especially your relationship.

2. Implement "unplugged" time periods during the evening. If you spend some time unwinding i by checking up on your social networks or tending your crops on Farmville, don't let it take up your whole evening. Implement a period of time during which you and your partner "unplug" by turning off your cell phones and computers. Spend some one-on-one time giving your relationship some much-needed undivided attention.

3. Plan activities that don't require electronics. How much time do you spend with your significant other watching TV or movies, playing video games, or sitting on the couch engrossed in your respective phones or laptops? Instead of allowing your time together to consist mostly of these activities, plan some "unplugged" dates. Cook together, go for a walk, have a picnic, volunteer, or take a trip to a location that has no cell phone service.

Hopefully by eliminating technology little by little from your personal life, you can break your addiction, learn how to devote your full attention to your partner, and reignite true intimacy in your relationship. Now shut off the computer!

Connelly, Marjorie. "More Americans Sense Downside to Being Plugged In."
Richtel, Matt. "Attached to Technology and Paying a Price."

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