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The Socially-Acceptable Affair

Like all seasoned couples counselors, I’ve heard a host of justifications and rationalizations for emotional and/or sexual extramarital affairs. While the spouse of the partner who had the affair often acquires some measure of understanding and compassion, he or she is inevitably wounded and angered by the affair. Furthermore, our society as a whole does not look favorably on extramarital affairs.

technoferenceA socially-acceptable love affair has become epidemic in our culture and in many others: we have fallen in love with our media devices. And because of our fascination with our techno toys, along with the functions, convenience and efficiency they offer, we not only condone their wide use–we have come to encourage it! Despite our pervasive sanction of techno-love, its effects are generally quite insidious.

Are you curious how obsession with media devices undermines committed relationships? I’ll cite several recent studies that illuminate the warning signs and pitfalls.

smartphone-convoPenn State family researcher Brandon McDaniel coined the term technoference to describe daily intrusions in couple interactions resulting from technology. McDaniel and Sara Coyne of Brigham Young University reported significant relationship dissatisfaction among people of all ages in established relationships, as well as in young adults attempting to form relationships, because of excessive tech use.

A prominent 2014 study by Virginia Tech psychologist Shalini Misra, et al involved monitoring the personal coffee shop conversations of 100 couples. The research team found that these conversations were hindered by the mere presence of a smartphone–even when not being used. Overall, the couples were less understanding of each other and less disclosing of deep feelings.

smartphones_dinnerJesper Aagaard, a doctoral candidate at a Denmark university, indicated specific communication barriers created by tech use that he observed and gleaned from interviews of men and women. Aagard referenced lack of eye contact, delayed responses and mechanical voice tone.

The renowned relationship researcher John Gottman reported common partner complaints such as, “I feel neglected. You’re always checking your email, or surfing the web, or checking the news, even during dinner.” Referring to the distractibility factor, Gottman maintained that, “The real danger is that people are checking their devices so often they’re not noticing a partner’s bid for connection.”

Young couple playing mini golfSummer strikes me as the ideal season to practice increased presence and connection with your partner. Will you join me in challenging yourself to decrease your use of at least two of your media devices by 25% or more until the end of summer? You’d then have adequate time to assess the difference that tech reduction may have made on your relationship.

Happy unplugging!
Jim Sharon

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