Couples and the "Other Person" . . . Technology

online therapy - overland parkThe rapid development and availability of technology is significantly impacting our relationships.  Cell phones, tablets and laptops, etc. along with unlimited internet access make our life easier and enjoyable but also has brought about new challenges for our closest relationships.  Instant access allows many new ways to connect with people but also makes it necessary to clearly define boundaries. Technology is an increasing problem in my couple’s therapy.  Technology can improve our daily lives, it can also have unintended negative effects by becoming invasive and addictive. It is important that we manage the technology instead of technology managing us.

Technology and Boundaries

We use to have a clearer boundary between work life and home life.  With cell phones, laptops, text messaging, instant messaging, video chats, work often comes to our home, our cars and family.  We also have lost that ability to “get away.”  You can now have multiple conversations (both work and personal) going at the same time on the same device. The cell phone and laptop comes on vacation and one partner is sending e-mails or surfing the internet, while sitting alongside the ocean. It’s key for couples to learn how to unplug from technology so they can have real face time to nourish their relationships. Talk with those key relationships and set boundaries for time or for ways of connecting in any relationship. i.e no phones during dinner or turn off the phone after 8pm.  Time is a precious commodity and with technology competing for a piece of the pie, we must learn how to say no and know its place in our lives.

Technology and Relationships

It is an all too common occurrence in my practice where couples experience a crisis over an outside relationship borne through technology.  One person will be devastated by the discovery of an online relationship.  They feel betrayed of their intimacy and trust.  The other person responds by saying it was only online, meant nothing and it wasn’t an affair since they didn’t have sex.  It should not be dismissed as the online relationship is usually a sign of a breakdown in communication, sexual dissatisfaction or unmet needs.  The internet relationship offers unconditional support, comfort and understanding.  People create a fantasy relationship instead of a real relationship.  It is important that the problems in the relationships be addressed and resolved.  Running away from the problems will typically result in making the problem worse. Addressing the problem will allow for resolution.

Another crisis that strikes couples is the discovery of internet pornography, cybersex, or sexting relationships.  This is an important issue to be addressed professionally instead of dismissing as a minor indiscretion.  This type of contact can often lead to secret phone calls, live video sexting and progress to real life meetings.  Many people who would not have sought out sex find themselves participating in cybersex.  The combination of stimulating experiences, ease of access, low cost and anonymity contribute to overuse and potentially addictive problems.

Technology and Behaviors

Online gambling, compulsive online shopping or compulsive internet searching also impacts relationships.  These activities are often extensions of compulsive or addictive behaviors.  With the ease of the internet, the person can gamble without the casino, shop without a mall and search without a library.  This removes many of the previous barriers.  I see many people who would not have participated in these behaviors except with the ease of the internet.

Technology adds value by keeping us in touch with each other throughout the day and connected to each others’ life.  It can allow flexibility in our work and allow us to construct work around our relationships.  I can work from home after connecting with my spouse and family instead of staying at the office late and missing out on special times.  Technology can save time and energy but it can also take away from our investment in the important people in our lives.  We need to be clear about how technology impacts our relationships and we need to increase the positive impacts, while limiting the negative impacts.

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