When asked if she would be bothered by a 24-hour hiatus from social media, Jessica Smith from Kansas City, Missouri, replied, “I would for the first day or so, but after that I wouldn’t miss it.” Julie McMurtrie from Santa Rosa, California, feels differently: “Yes, it would bother me—at least not being able to text, since that’s how I communicate with my husband when he’s at work.”
Whether we end up being disturbed by a forced break or not, one thing is clear: most of us spend a lot of time immersed in social media. In 2010, NielsenWire reported that, “Americans spend one-third of their online time (36 percent) communicating and networking across social networks, blogs, personal email, and instant messaging.” With a substantial amount of time focused on statuses, tweets and texts, are we detracting time from more valuable purposes—like our relationships? Even those of us happily coexisting with a partner, smart phone and laptop, could benefit from learning to balance social media and its place in our lives.
Are You on a Date with Your Partner—or Phone?
The overindulgence of social media in relationships has become a mainstream phenomenon. When “The Marriage Ref” first aired in 2010, an early episode featured a woman unwilling to defer her texting obsession—even during a date with her husband. Although clearly aggravated by the excessive texts, her husband did little in the way of establishing any boundaries relating to her behavior (before or after the date). “Texting during a date with a spouse sends a clear signal that you find your spouse boring and second-rate,” says stress management specialist Debbie Mandel, author of “Addicted to Stress: A Woman’s 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life.”
In addition to being blatantly rude, participating in social media while on a date “can also indicate that you are trying to escape,” says Mandel. “It would have been better,” she adds, “if he let his wife know in a calm, assertive tone that texting on their date was unacceptable and that he’d like her to turn off her phone.”
“Bad Human Communication Leaves Us Less Room to Grow” (Rowan D. Williams)
If an overabundance of social media is negatively interfering with your relationship, this may be something to examine more closely. “When a repeat problem surfaces, you have to ask: is it passion or compulsion?” says Mandel. “When you lose the ability to communicate via speaking on the phone, face-to-face communication or even writing a letter, you are out of control.” At this point, Mandel suggests a couple make a commitment to spend quality time together as a couple—even if that means forsaking social media temporarily or all together.
Avoid Inserting Phone in Mouth
There is an appropriate time and place for social media in a relationship. Speaking to McMurtrie’s earlier point, a quick text or email to your spouse is perfectly acceptable—and sometimes necessary. “Email and texting are great ways to communicate fast and furious,” says Mandel. For example, sending a quick text or email throughout the day to check in with your partner or ask him or her a question is an easy communication fix. If, however, you have something more in-depth you need to convey, Mandel suggests taking a social-media pause. “Emails, when constructed thoughtfully, give you the ability to respond rather than react,” says Mandel. But responding too hastily in the heat of the moment may produce unwanted consequences—saying something you’ll later regret.
Another social media relationship spoiler is the likelihood of things getting lost in translation. “For example, erosion in the ability to read body language and tone, make eye contact, and have a meaningful, in-depth conversation begins to occur,” explains Mandel. People also have the tendency to become impatient, resulting in abrupt and unclear texts and emails. In addition, says Mandel, “The ability to listen, really listen—giving a person your full attention—will be lost.”
Un-charge your Battery
Limiting social media—not simply for the sake of your relationship, but in general—has its benefits. “Technology as relaxation,” says Mandel, “interferes with your ability to unwind. Technology actually revs you up.” Mandel explains that carving time out for yourself helps you to reconnect with your natural core identity. “It would be better to exercise, take a walk outdoors or engage in a creative hobby to reset your natural rhythm. When you are in rhythm with yourself, you are in rhythm with other people.”