Sometimes I’m hesitant to bring this subject up because in the past it has sometimes been met with resistance and people making comments that I’m talking in generalizations, or anti-technology, some sort of luddite.
Truth be told.
I’m writing this post more for myself than anyone because I get caught up in technology that interferes in my marriage and parenting. Name it…and it has distracted (distracts) me…blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google +, Angry Birds, email, text messaging, Group Me, …. I can go on, but you get the point. A couple of years ago I asked my wife if she thought technology was interfering in our relationship. If it was keeping me from fully being present? Let’s just say I didn’t receive back the message I had hoped to hear. Sigh. But it helped me be more aware of some things and shift course in how I was using it.
And this topic of technology almost always…and I mean almost always (not talking generalizations here) comes up in marital therapy.
The truth is that people often don’t feel like they are as important, or that someone is as present when they are looking into a screen, or when we have that little piece of technology always on hand. There are a lot of reasons for that, most of them going farther back into core feelings that one may have experienced and developed in their family of origin or other relationships important relationships. (i.e. things that interfered with us feeling valued in those primary relationships).
I won’t get into that now in order to keep it simple.
These pieces of technology are totally ubiquitous so it’s mere absence in a single encounter between two people in a marriage often communicates something very important to a couple. Mainly, that they matter to each other and are present; nothing is going to distract them right now.
A few years ago John Dyer and I did a number of presentation in the Dallas area talking about the influence of technology in our lives and some boundaries that can be placed on them.
The irony…Technology has the amazing ability to connect us to the people we most love and care about…BUT, if we aren’t careful, it can disconnect us as well, especially when we have the opportunity to be present in the flesh with someone and choose to engage the technological tool instead.
So here it is.
Here is the one thing you can do instantly to start improving your marriage (and really, all your relationships) today.
Are you ready?
Start putting better boundaries around your technology use when you are around your spouse (and kids and parents and friends).
So let’s keep it simple.
What are some things you can experiment with now for the next 30 days? And I say experiment because most people don’t want to be told what to do, but they are willing to experiment to see if their experimentation yields good results.
And if you try some of these suggestions, and you stick with it, you will see good results.
Start with the most obvious offenders for most people…the mobile phone, the ipad (or Kindle or some other tablet) and the laptop.
So what can you do?
Create a Tech Basket
You can create a tech basket or some space in your environment whether it be at home, work, eating out, travel, etc. Set some rules around the basket. Example: Your cell phones go into the basket from 5pm–8pm. Or, all laptops, tablets and phones in the basket from 9pm–7am. You make up your own rules, but both spouses agree on the rules. This physical basket does two things: 1) when people see it it reminds them that they are entering a space where they are to be present. So it literally reminds them to put their stuff in it. 2) when your spouse sees it with your stuff in it, it says to them that you have made a point to value your time together.
Leave Your Stuff Away When You Walk in the Door
Though I have long promoted the idea of a tech basket, sometimes what others find helpful is to literally leave a mobile phone, tablet or laptop in the car when they get home. Or leave it in your closet or dresser drawer. Some place where it is not around.
Create a Tech Sabbath in Your Marriage
Discuss and set aside a day where you don’t engage technology on that day (or at least for most of that day). I find (that with the exception of a few jobs) that most people don’t have to be at their phone’s beck and call, or available for emergencies. We just choose to be. So find a day where you commit to your spouse that the two of you won’t be on your phones, tablets or laptops. And then use that space to connect and do things you may not normally. Engage in a deep conversation. Talk about some of your dreams for the future. Work through some present conflict (that maybe has been avoided through the use of technology). Do a creative date.
These are just a few simple suggestions. Ones that in fact have used in my martial work to success, and that I experiment in my own marriage. Ultimately it’s about setting healthy boundaries around technology in order to be really, relationally present in your marriage.
I know I have a lot of work to do. Beyond the ideas suggested above, I know I could pull out my phone less and take pictures and then post them on Instagram. That often keeps me from being present. I know I could check Facebook only a couple of times a day and then stop when I get home. I know I could not continually pick up my phone to see if I received a new text or email message.
And though I’m talking about marriage, I know my kids are watching EVERYTHING I do, which means I’m the model for how they are to live relationally with other people. My hope is to teach them how to do that.
So what are some practical things you can do to be relationally present in your marriage and not let technology interfere?
Maybe you start by asking your spouse if they feel your technology use gets in the way of the marriage. If you do ask that question, be prepared to listen. Not react, but listen. Not defend, but listen.