Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. So many ways to instantly communicate with anyone right at your fingertips. Despite this age of heightened connectivity, an increasing number of couples are coming to me citing social media as an issue in their relationship, a barrier to quality communication that may have not been so great to begin with.
It’s hard to share the highlights of your day with your partner when they have their nose buried in their Facebook feed. Trying to share a story with your significant other about your son but your partner is flipping through Instagram? Ugh. The message seems clear – my phone is more important than you are at this moment. Over time, this can be very problematic and will send the wrong message to your partner. They may even start to think, “Why bother?”
John and Julie Gottman, the famous relationship experts, talk about the importance of “bids” in healthy relationships. A bid is an attempt at seeking attention, affirmation, and/or affection to positively connect with your partner. For example, at a meal together you might say, “I can’t decide between the fish and the steak” to your companion. Although the content of the statement isn’t super important here, it’s a simple attempt to connect with your partner in that moment. Your partner can keep quiet and keep perusing their menu (minus one for them) or accept your bid for connection and say something like, “they both sound good…but didn’t you just have steak the other night when you tried that new restaurant down the street?” (plus one!).
In this very small interaction you are being mindful that your partner wants to connect with you and are responding appropriately, known as “turning toward” your partner. Gottman’s research suggests that successful couples “turn toward” each other about 86% of the time. Accepting your partner’s bids requires paying attention, something you can’t do if you’re engrossed in Twitter.
Too much screen time may also prompt trust issues. Is your partner communicating with someone else? Are they messaging with an ex through Facebook? Social media may blur the lines of what is acceptable behavior so make sure to have a conversation with your partner about what is off limits and why. A good rule of thumb – use real world boundaries as a guide. If you wouldn’t make that comment IRL with your partner by your side, best not to do it online either.
Make it a priority to spend quality time with your partner without social media. Communicating with your partner in real time is always more important than Facebook, so make sure that you are being mindful about having time together device free. Silencing your phone during dinner is a good place to start. This allows you to focus on the meal and interacting with your family. Try 30 minutes daily on do not disturb or have an evening designated as device-free time. Rather than spending hours reading posts and liking photos, use that time to meaningfully invest in your relationships – with your partner or your kids.
Some of my clients will rebut, “I have to be plugged in for work.” I just don’t buy it. Sure, I understand the importance of being connected because of your job, but you can make an effort to silence your phone for 30 minutes. Be present, look your partner in the eyes and have real conversation. It’s worth it!
This blog post was written by Katie Golem, LSW, one of the couples counselors on staff at Artemis Counseling.