When Digital Opposites Attract
But what if what works for one half of the couple doesn’t work for the other? Technology has given us so many different ways to communicate—Facebook, texting, instant messaging, phone calls, email— that we’re bound to butt heads when our partner doesn’t use our preferred method.
Susan Maushart, Ph.D., journalist and author of The Winter of Our Disconnect, suspected a burgeoning relationship wouldn’t work out when she realized her partner’s idea of staying in touch was sending a quick text. “I’m more of the one-hour-minimum phone call-type,” she says.
You don’t have to be on the same page digitally if you’re compatible in other ways, says Take Back Your Marriage author William Doherty, Ph.D., professor of family social science and director of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Minnesota. “Accept that people have preferred and uncomfortable ways of connecting.”
“Digital incompatibilities don’t have to be a real problem if we accept each other’s differences and find a middle ground,” says Doherty. Instead of saying, “I don’t know why you can’t do this,” ask, “how can we compromise in some way?” For the spouse that dislikes the phone, perhaps that solution is keeping calls brief, or having your partner ask if now is an OK time.
In fact, says Doherty, digital incompatibility can actually be a good thing if it gets couples to lay down some laws on how and when it’s appropriate to use your devices. If both people are buried in their phones and neither has a problem with it, “there will be less tension, but they may also slowly drift apart. Complaining is actually a good sign,” he says.
Digital Rules to Live—and Love—By
While Sbarra, Doherty and Sussman all concede that what works for one couple isn’t going to work for everyone, here are a few digital ground rules they believe can help establish the basis of a healthy digital duo:
• Impose tech-free zones: Keep gadgets out of the bedroom and off of the dinner table. Never keep your devices out when you’re on a date or in the company of guests. If you’re waiting on an important call, explain when you first sit down why you may need to leave it out, but don’t look at it otherwise, says Sussman.
• Keep multitasking to a minimum: Train your brain to be content with one distraction at a time. If you’re watching TV, put away the laptop, iPad or phone.
• Disconnect daily: Maushart, who pulled the plug on her family for six months, suggests carving out time together. Find a routine—something you can count on—for disconnecting with your gadgets and reconnecting with your partner or spouse.
• Stifle your Pavlovian response: Don’t automatically react to your phone, says research psychologist Larry Rosen, Ph.D., author of iDisorder. From a neurological point of view, if you’re checking your phone 20 times a day or responding to it every time someone comments on your status, it’s going to over-activate parts of your brain, so that you’re thinking about it even when you’re not logged on.
• Work out disagreements in person: It’s too easy to shoot off an angry text that you might later regret, says Sbarra. It’s a cop-out that keeps couples from having real discussions. “By avoiding them, you’re not fostering change that would bring you closer as a couple,” says Sussman. Gadgets encourage superficial exchanges, and only by digging in deeply can you forge meaningful connections
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