Looking to Connect
It is no surprise to any of us that people are looking online to connect with others, and that in the process a certain level of intimate needs are met. Whether it’s a chat group, dating service, blog or class reunion site, people are finding connection.

The questions for you…the question for me…the question for us is: Are we getting our needs for intimacy online, rather than in the relationships that we are a part of (i.e. family, spouse, friends, etc.)? Do we spend more time feeding the relationships we are a part of in person, or the ones online?

I have the tendency to ramble (can be a gift, but often a curse), so let me break it down very simply.

When our need for intimacy and connection are not being met in our relationships, we often turn towards the place (most often another person; addiction; work, etc.) where we can connect, find intimacy. Ultimately, we not only want intimacy (and when I talk about intimacy, I am not speaking just sexually, but in general), but we want to feel valued for who we are, what we have to say, and what we have to offer. If then, the relationships we are in do not provide a place where we feel safe, valued, affirmed, loved….where we don’t connect and have a level of intimacy….WELL, then we often turn to other things.

Instant Affirmation
That’s what makes the internet, online communities and social media tools so powerful and addicting. Unlike the reality of a face to face relationship, online communities can often provide instant affirmation, and access to connection, and a certain level of intimacy that sometimes is harder to achieve when you are dealing with another person, in the flesh. Online we can be anyone we want to be…we can present ourselves in any shape, size or manner. It is easy to be liked, and if someone doesn’t like us, or affirm us, well then we can just remove them from our community or shut down communication. That is much more difficult to do in person.

What I’m trying to communicate is much more complex than what I can, or am wanting to achieve in this post. But I do want you…I do want me…I do want us to be more AWARE of this issue.

Let me give you a prime example. Let’s say you are a blogger (and most of us are) and you have developed an online following that is pretty affirming. They like what you write, they leave comments, your traffic is a boost to your ego. Well, because of that affirmation you turn to that channel to find that connection. And if you aren’t careful, you stop paying as much attention to your relationships (family, spouse, children, friends, etc.). You have this online community that is affirming and an instant connection…so when family life isn’t as quick to affirm or provide connection, it becomes an easy shift to start paying more attention to the online world.

The danger in all this is that it’s really a bind. People often seek affirmation from the online world life when their home/work life isn’t so great. And other times, just spending so much time online without any boundaries can lead to neglect of our in person relationships. And when they get difficult, it’s just easier to stay online.

Be Aware
As someone who is engaged in the world of social media, therapy and ministry I would just say for you to be aware…to take stock, assess a few things.  Ask some questions.

  • How much time am I spending online a day?  What does my time online take away from?
  • What kind of social activities or relationships am I getting involved in?  Something as innocent as searching for, befriending and communicating with old friends online may be an attempt to fill some need for connection you aren’t getting at home.
  • Are your in person relationships being neglected in favor of your online ones?
  • Are you getting your needs met for connection, affirmation, love, acceptance, intimacy, etc. online?
  • If you and your spouse/significant other aren’t connecting, are you taking the time to talk to each other about it, or do you withdraw and seek it somewhere else..in this case online?
  • At the end of the week (outside of your required online time needed for your job), when you tally up your time online in your freetime vs. the time you spend with your family, spouse, children, etc….which ends up being more?  Why do you think that is?
  • Does your online life affirming you in ways that you aren’t getting from your in person relationships?  Or has your time online taken you away from developing and working on those relationships in person, therefore they aren’t as fulfilling as the ones online?
  • Do you belong to an accountability group that not only keeps you accountable for other parts of your life, but your online life as well.

I want to just suggest and point out a couple of resources.  Some of these are more aimed towards the sexual intimacy that many seek for online, but I suggest them to you to just point out the larger issue…and that is this:  That our online behavior affects our relationships, and sometimes online community is easier than our in person relationships, just reinforcing our desire for quick affirmation that we seek online.  And now, many professional and lay communities are really starting to acknowledge how our technological lives impact not only us, but those we are in relationship with.

Just check out the current issue of the AAMFT Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. By browsing a list of some of the articles you can see the growing concern of how our online worlds, technological lives are impacting our relationships.

Cybersex and the E-teen: What Marriage and Family Therapists Should Know

Technology, Relationships, and Problems: A Research Synthesis

Emotional and Sexual Infidelity Offline and in Cyberspace
Cybersex: The Impact of a Contemporary Problem on the Practices of Marriage and Family Therapists

Therapists’ Assessment and Treatment of Internet Infidelity Cases
Assisting A Concerned Person to Motivate Someone Experiencing Cybersex Into Treatment : Application of Invitational Intervention: The ARISE Model to Cybersex

Also, check out the book, In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free from Complusive Online Sexual Behavior.

Plug….United Nerd LifeGroup
This is just one place where I’m learning a lot about the balance between living online, yet setting healthy boundaries in my online space, especially in regards to my family, relationships, work, etc. Join us tomorrow night for a great conversation at Tony Steward leads us in the below discussion.

When: 9:00–10:00PM Central Time

Where: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/tonystewards-show

Topic: We are heading into week 4 of our 6 week study on getting UnPlugged as we are all online and into technology. This week we are going to be talking about having healthy intimacy in our lives and relationships. There is nothing like the distraction of technology and information overload to kill our opportunities for intimacy.

Join the Facebook Group, United Nerd LifeGroup