What is the best way for couples to stay close to each other? Talk to each other. Not through Facebook or Instagram or texting, but through face to face communication.

Those are the words of Ian Kerner, a counsellor who specializes in couples and sexual counselling. In an interview with Public Radio International (PRI), Kerner talked about how technology like Facebook and Instagram are posing real issues with relationships, and that a great way to handle it is to turn that all off.

Tuning Out

Kerner observed that couples frequently hold side-by-side conversations with their cell phones and laptops, and that “they’re not having direct face-to-face conversations because they’re also on an iPhone or a gadget, so they’re partially vacated.” Often, the only time where the couples actually have a face to face conversation was when they were speaking with Kerner at therapy.

Kener said that studies show that even the mere presence of a technological device nearby, even if it is off or silent, can change the texture of a conversation. It distracts people and thus worsens relationships as couples worry that they are not being listened to.

Kerner does not think technology inherently hurts relationships. In the interview, he mentions one couple who used video games like Minecraft and Nintendo titles to bond as an example that technology can sometimes be used for good relationships. The Pew Research Center found that 21 percent of cell owners or internet users in a committed relationship “have felt closer to their spouse or partner because of exchanges they had online or via text message”. In addition, 74 percent of couples reported that the Internet had a mostly positive effect on their relationship with just 20 percent claiming a mostly negative effect.

One of the key aspects to understanding how technology can hurt relationships is something which Kerner calls “technological compatibility.” If a wife loves to be on Instagram and Facebook all the time, but the husband is more old-fashioned and only really uses the Internet for work-related purposes, then this can raise tensions.

One example which Kerner cited was a family where the wife used Instagram to show photos of absolutely everything, whether friends, special events, or day to day life., against the advice of home security companies When the family went on vacation and got ice cream, she then started trying to get everyone in a proper position to photograph the family with their ice cream.

The husband, who just wanted to eat the ice cream, snapped in public. He caused a scene, cursing her out in front of the children “about just wanting to eat his [bleeping] ice cream.” It was fundamentally a difference between a wife who was happy to use technology all the time and a husband who was less comfortable with the idea. Kerner noted that he has seen other instances where the husband does not want to be on Facebook or have his kids to have a Facebook account, which invites further acrimony.

Further Research

Lisa Pollack of the Financial Times pointed out another issue of technological compatibility. Another Pew Research Center poll showed that 62 percent of individuals believed that using your cell phone at a restaurant is not okay. But this means that 38 percent of individuals believe that using your cell phone at a restaurant is okay. So when someone from the 38 percent goes on a date at a restaurant with someone from the 62 percent, that one issue can seriously damage a relationship.

So how can couples actually fix this problem? Kerner believes that the best thing a couple can do is to go on a “digital diet” and use that time gained to start repairing relationships. He also observed that spending some time away of those devices could improve one’s sexual life as well.

“People go to bed too tired to make love… And yet they’re spending hours a day on social media, on blogs and on Netflix. Maybe we really need to figure out how to turn off that faucet.”

So unfriend your partner, close the computer, and go outside with him or her. If that makes for a better relationship, it will certainly be worth it.

Featured photo credit: woodleywonderworks via flickr.com

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