There is no actual diagnosis by this name, but I am referring to a widespread and pervasive situation that effects many couples. This is the problem that arises when one or both members of a couple spend so much time on their technological devices (cell phones, computers, or tablets) that someone ends up feeling neglected, rejected, or abandoned. Unless you truly are trying to avoid your partner, you might end up regretting how much time you’ve spent disengaged from them, or wonder why they are then disengaged from you when you are desiring emotional or sexual intimacy.
As our lives become more involved with raising children, demanding careers, or caring for elder family members, our free time becomes more limited. Those precious few hours where our obligations subside seem shorter and shorter. Often the simple act of sitting still and not speaking to another human being feels like a good way to relax and unwind. Even couples without children or retired couples may find that too much of their ‘together time’ is spent with little intimate connection. Whether you are engaging in gaming, mindless shows, social media, or whether you are dedicating your time to more cerebral online activity, you might find that more time passes than you really meant to spend engaged with your device. A few minutes, become an hour, an hour becomes several hours, and soon it is time to go to sleep and you haven’t spent any quality time with your partner. Perhaps your partner understands your need to zone-out for a while, but at some point they may begin to feel that they are competing with your machine for your attention. That in itself, is hard on someone’s ego and builds resentment. Devices, unlike television, are almost always a solitary act (although many people complain they feel left out when a partner watches something on TV that they particularly dislike).
Knowing when to power down your device may differ from person-to-person and couple-to-couple. In this day and age it might be unreasonable to have a zero tolerance attitude or policy toward online time in your household. Often work requires on-line time from home. However, thinking about how much time you realistically want to spend on your device and then setting a timer (helpful that it is built-in to most devices) will also encourage you to hit the off button. Many parents will set rules and limits for their children’s use of technology, which can be used as a basic guideline for their own use; not at family dinner, not in restaurants, not after lights out, etc.
For some people the draw of the screen is addictive, and the thought of limiting their time with it feels like an encroachment on their personal identity. Instead, think of learning to be stronger willed, more directed, and having better interpersonal relationships as ego enhancing and identity building. Looking at your daily life in terms of each week rather than each night may also be helpful. Yes, you should try to find some time every day to have undistracted, eye to eye contact and communicate with your partner. This doesn’t always happen, but the conscious attempt to find that time will help bring it about. Maybe dedicate certain days of the week to actively engage with your mate; sharing stories, taking walks together, reading to each other, getting in bed together before you are exhausted. Don’t worry too much if ‘date nights’ are planned and not spontaneous – it is better than not at all.
There is an old adage that no one on their death bed ever said, “I should have spent more time working”. Who will say, ”I should have spent more time on my device”?
Leslie Fabian is a NYS licensed Individuals and Couples Psychotherapist with over 22 years of private practice. Leslie Fabian, MSW, LCSW, The Lighthouse Retreat and Wellness Center in Croton on Hudson, 24 East 12th St., New York, NY, [email protected], 917-620-0524.