I don’t know if you have heard one of those commercials where the mom is texting, the daughter is posting on facebook, the son is playing video games, and the dad is watching sports. As the commercial continues, it says something to the effect of “this weekend – unplug.” The commercial reinforces what research is telling us – and that is that the digital world has become much too prominent in our lives. And it is negatively impacting our marriages.
We are beginning to see what some therapists are calling an internet addiction and it has at least three subtypes: excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations, and e-mail/text messaging. While addiction may seem like a strong word, there are a number of parallels with other addictions. Internet addiction has four characteristics: 1) excessive use – it becomes both obsessive and compulsive; 2) withdrawal symptoms when the behavior is stopped – such as feelings of irritability, anger, tension, and anxiety; 3) lowered tolerance for the status quo – in other words, I need the newest software or game or technology, and I need more and more time on the internet; and finally – 4) negative repercussions – this can be an increase in arguments, poor communication, social isolation, and fatigue.
Instead of spending the needed time in face to face conversation with our spouses, many are looking to e-mail, texting, and facebook to combat loneliness and to provide a feeling of importance and significance. Many individuals have their laptop opened before they are even out of bed in the mornings in order to see who has contacted them. Some cannot be separated from their phone for even a few minutes because they might miss that all important text message. We all want to feel needed and valued. We all want to feel important. However, the digital world may be providing a cheap imitation for the real thing – face to face, heart to heart verbal communication – complete with eye contact, body language, disagreements, smiles, tears, and real connection.
Don’t get me wrong – the digital world has much to offer and certainly benefits our lives. The real and significant danger though is when it encroaches and becomes a poor substitute for the real thing. I encourage you to work to “unplug” more this week and build real connections with you spouse.