Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Excuse Me, While I Check My Text Messages and Other New Relationship Tests

It is a brave new world figuring out how modern technology fits into our close relationships, and learning how to turn it off at important times. The temptation to be constantly available to everyone,by cellphone,texting,blackberries, and our mobile devices is creating some strange and unanticipated results.Let us take a moment to question why we need to be plugged in so often, and what the impact is on us and on our relationships.

Interrupting a conversation to take a call or check or send a text message makes the person you are with in person feel unimportant and irrelevant. I have had children tell me they can be spending precious one-on-one time with a busy parent and feel incredibly hurt when mom or dad is distracted from their activity by their phone. It makes you feel the other person is not present. It feels bad. I can remember taking a walk through Central Park in New York city a few years ago and watching a father and son out in a boat together on the lake there on a beautiful, sunny, summer afternoon. The young boy was filled with delight, seeing a family of ducks with several baby ducklings swim close to the boat. He squealed with delight, and turned to share his find with his dad, who motioned for him to be quiet while he finished his cell phone call. Five minutes later, when dad was finished, the small boy was over it. His dad missed sharing all the joy of that moment. From my spot on the shore I wanted to cry. Or throw the man's cell phone in the lake.

In the early stages of a relationship, we make interpretations about the other persons' intent or interest in making us a priority and giving their full and undivided attention. I have heard of Generation X and Y dating experiences where one person is texting throughout the date. Check please. That is just rude behavior. If you are that busy, you should have canceled or rescheduled.Or do yourself and potential partners a favor, and get some counseling before you begin dating, to work through your lack of emotional availability.

In their recently published book, Married to Distraction, by Edward and Sue Hallowell, both therapists,they do an excellent job at portraying the modern challenges couples are facing daily to maintain intimacy in an age of constant interruption.They even have a 30-day plan of attack on dealing with this, most of which involves turning OFF the technology, talking with your loved one, asking each other open-ended questions to get the interaction going, and having some high-energy fun together. Leave the cell phones off or at home. This isn't rocket science. It is reprioritizing the important people in your life above the need to be in the know and connected at all times. Turning everything off tells the person you are with that "you are the most important thing right now, other stuff can wait".

There are some human interactions that should never be reduced to a text message. You can't get the tone or the nuances of a voice conversation or a face-to-face chat.
Lots of miscommunication can occur through text messages. It can be difficult to identify sarcasm or intent.Sometimes using a text message can be a cute little connection to your child or partner while you are apart(<3), which could be a positive,relational use of technology. I have had teens tell me about break-ups by text, which is hurtful and impersonal.Technological advances are fine, but we each need to think through situations and times when using it is helpful or destructive.

Modern technology also provides a level of secrecy and anonymity to interactions that can tempt even good people to do or say things that they shouldn't.If you are a teenager, posting critical or inappropriate things about others is unwise and gutless.Parents need to be aware, and frequently advise their teens of the risks invoved. If you are in a commited relationship or marriage and you are having secret text, email, or phone conversations with other potential or past partners, you are hurting your relationship and being dishonest. Secrets are destructive to relationships. How would you feel if your partner dishonored you in this way? Your relationship can only be as good as both people's ability to protect and nurture it.Great couples' relationships require that both people have the maturity to set boundaries that protect the sacred trust between the two. Personal integrity is absolutely the key here, and not allowing current technology to assist you in ruining something wonderful.

It is important to take some technology breaks with yourself as well.You can turn it off at certain points in your day and just be present, breathe, relax. You can notice the world around you and the way the light shines through the clouds. There is a subtle,"always on duty" mentality with being tied to any technology that keeps you keyed up. Guess what? Empower yourself. You can rechoreograph that routine. Turn it off before dinner, or on weekends,or when you need time by yourself or your favorite people.Don't take your blackberry to yoga. It is a conflict of interest.

Finally, there is a narcissistic cultural bent to feeling that any of us is so important that we can't turn off the access the world and technology have to us at times. In an era of people twittering and facebooking their day to day activities and experiences, it is good to keep our own self-importance in check. Using technology can be helpful to our relationships or hurtful. Insight and awareness about how our behavior affects the people closest to us, and how frantic it is making us, are essential. We want to use technology to enhance, not have it cheapen or hurt our relationships.I don't want you to miss life's most tender moments while you check your text messages. :)

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