Parents, technology and relationships

For new parents, technology is great for keeping in touch – texting your partner during the day, facetiming with your baby, or catching up with friends you no longer have time to see.

Smartphones and social media have broken down many communication barriers but they’ve also thrown a few new stones on the path. Learning to navigate this territory can help protect you against the risks that an overreliance on technology can put on your relationship.

Work-life balance

Technology makes it easier for your partner to get in touch with you at work, but also for your colleagues to get in touch with you when you’re at home. This blurring of the lines between work and family can be stressful, making you feel like you have to deal with work matters at home, or family matters at work [1].

Phones and intimacy

One study showed that simply having mobiles in the house can get in the way of couples developing intimacy and trust, even on an unconscious level. You don’t know it’s happening, but the presence of your phone in your pocket, or on the counter, or on the bedside table, can create a barrier to the trust and intimacy you might otherwise be building up [2].

Talking through text

It’s easy for meanings and nuances to be lost in the written word – especially when you’re firing off messages in the middle of a busy day. Words can take on new meanings when presented without tone of voice. A hurried response can be taken as a lack of consideration. Even a cheeky emoji can be read wrong.

Over the course of a day, this can build up into a big heap of mixed messages and unnecessary resentment, bleeding over into the way you talk to each other at home [3] and leading to unnecessary bickering.

The following tips can help make sure technology plays a healthier role in your lives:

  • Agree some ground rules. Decide what constitutes acceptable internet and phone use. You might want to agree on some designated phone-free time for catching up, or just plan to switch off after a certain hour. Whatever you decide, make sure it works for both of you.
  • Avoid assumptions. If your partner texts or emails something that feels like a dig or a rejection, clarify it before you leap to a reaction.
  • Pay attention. When your partner is talking about something important, put your screen away and give them your full attention.
  • Save your news. If you’ve got something important to share, wait and do it face to face. That way, you won’t miss out on all the benefits of your partner’s reaction.
  • Switch off at bedtime. Make your bedroom a temple of sleep (and sex too, if you have time). Turn your phone off, or leave it out of the bedroom. Buy an old-fashioned alarm clock and don’t check your messages until you’re up and about.
  • Switch off on date nights. If you’ve set up a time to share together, turn off your phone and concentrate on enjoying each other’s company.
  • Leave social media out of arguments. If you’re arguing with your partner, don’t drop in that a friend on Facebook agrees with you. Keep your private conversations private.
  • Be understanding. Try to understand what your partner finds so valuable about their online life. They may be receiving important support and advice from a forum or a WhatsApp group. Understanding this can help you make peace with the time they spend online.
  • Talk about your feelings. If you feel neglected, say something. People often don't realise the impact of their behaviour, so a little nudge can be helpful to start the conversation. Remember to focus on your feelings, and not on your partner’s behaviour!
  • Set an example. As a parent, you may be trying to limit your children’s screen time. Lead by example, and take your own eyes off the screen a bit more often. Your children are learning from you about how to have positive, healthy relationships – let them see you interacting in real life too. 
 
References
 

[1] Chesley, N. (2005). Blurring Boundaries? Linking Technology Use, Spillover, Individual Distress, and Family Satisfaction. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67: 1237–1248.

[2] Przybylski, A. K., & Weinstein, N. (2012). Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(3), 237–246.

[3] Hertlein, K., & Stevenson, A. (2010). The Seven “As” Contributing to Internet-Related Intimacy Problems: A Literature Review. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 4(1), article 3. Retrieved from https://cyberpsychology.eu/article/view/4230/3273

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