One main draw of technology is entering a world that is different from the physical one. Many people find themselves turning away from their partners in times of conflict to seek comfort and engagement online. But this can make becoming disconnected from your relationship, and feeling concerned about your partner’s actions online, a real problem.
The internet can cause a lot of problems in relationships. It provides a false sense of anonymity and a feeling of lack of consequences for your actions because what you do online “isn’t real”. It’s easy to delete a text-stream believing that deleting it will negate the implications of the conversation. And it’s easy to feel compelled to elicit social support online by posting about a recent argument. While these actions seem harmless, they really do affect your relationship and complicate your ability to connect to and trust one another.
Social Media is the 3rd Party in Your Relationship
If you have ever posted a status on Social Media after a disagreement or messaged an old flame to feel that spark of defiance, you have probably fallen prey to technology’s influence in your relationship. When you turn to the internet, you invite others into your relationship which further adds to the feeling of disconnection. You wouldn’t stand up at a crowded restaurant and shout, “We are having marital issues!”, but when you really look at it, this is exactly what posting about your relationship can be compared to.
Additionally, the internet makes it possible to connect with people whom you wouldn’t normally have access to. This includes old loves and dangerous work flirtations. For many people, having a partner who texts old flings or frequents their Social Media accounts falls squarely in the cheating category and hurts just the same. This can be especially true if the residual pain from past infidelity or trust issues is present in the relationship. If you engage in online infidelity while you’re currently working to fix things with your partner, this further adds to disconnect and distrust. Remember, just because it feels like the internet protects you, does not mean you or your relationship is safe from the consequences of your online actions.
How to Combat the Internet Interference
Since your relationship exists in the flesh, turning to your phone won’t help you connect. On top of this, engaging in shady actions online will only further create distrust. So, what can do you do? If trust issues exist, does it become essential to read each other’s private texts and social media conversations? Not necessarily. Trust, especially after it has been lost in a relationship, can be slow to return. It involves patience, understanding, and lots of give-and-take. Invite your partner to work with you to reduce the intrusive noise brought into your relationship by online influence.
- The next time you have an argument, actively work to be present to work through things with your partner. Work together to stop outside opinion from clouding your perception of the relationship or affecting its outcome.
- Attempt to make the internet a conduit for positive change in your relationship by exploring useful websites WITH your partner. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing: there are plenty of healthy activities you and your partner can do that will strengthen and not harm your connection.
- Set up Internet Boundaries: what actions are you and your partner comfortable knowing the other is doing online and what things are not ok. While this requires a certain level of trust to do, engaging in the conversation and voicing concerns can positively impact your experience of trust with your partner’s internet use.
- If there’s no constructive reason to be having a conversation with someone that would hurt your partner, don’t do it.
- Consider having no-phone/computer times at home. Put down the phone and pick-up where you left off in the face-to-face conversation that could save your relationship. If you find this helpful, consider trying this exercise as a whole unit: there’s a good chance every member of your family could use a little internet break!
Lauri is an intern couples counselor at the Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. She works with couples and families who want to reconnect and strengthen their emotional bonds. Lauri enjoys all things you can do in the great outdoors, horseback riding, and caring for her pets: a cat and a three-legged dog.”