Sunday, January 14, 2018

Technology: A Third Party in a Relationship?

Clinically, I hear a lot of spouses or partners nowadays complain "I feel taken for granted. Neglected. Uncared for. You're always checking your FB, your emails, surfing the web, even during meals. Put away that damn phone and talk to me!"

I'm reminded of Nick, a patient, who said that the way his wife will wrap up her day while lying down with him in bed is to look at Facebook. Nick blamed that for his alcoholism and womanizing!

"Technoference."  It's a fast-rising epidemic. With it, you miss bids for connection or communication. By delays in response, lack of eye contact, mechanical reactions etc.

This so-called "technoference" disrupts relationships. Not just between spouses or partners. But also between parents and children. Between friends. Between teachers and students. Between bosses and employees. And many others!

"Technology is like a third party in the relationship," observes one New York psychotherapist Ken Page. In other words, it can be a saboteur of intimacy. A real danger is that we check our devices so often we're not noticing our loved ones' bids for connection.

Psychologist Ken Gergen, over a decade ago, once coined a 2-word phrase "absent presence" to further describe what we're talking about. He referred to it as the ability of a partner to be physically present but absorbed by a "world of elsewhere."

The rise of smartphones, indeed, multiplies our vulnerability to "technoference" and "absent presence" in our relationships! If the lower quality of our conversations and the conflicts in our relationships are happening due to habitual use of devices, we therefore need to take notice before it gets too late.

It's for everyone's mental health to take back control. Life may depend on it.