Whatever did we do before digital technology?
I think I can recall the world pre-Google when I had to flick through the Yellow Pages to find a restaurant and then call a boyfriend from that quaintest (and smelliest) of places – a red telephone box. Planning a date meant arranging details well in advance and trusting that the person concerned would actually turn up at the allotted time.
My, how things have changed.
Today you can meet your potential life partner through a dating website, check their history on Facebook (to see how weird they really are), book your restaurant on an app, and text to make sure your date is on their way. You can even, I recently discovered, propose to your beloved using a virtual reality headset. The mind boggles.
But building a strong marriage in a digital world is a skill most of us are learning on the job. Digital technology has become increasingly woven into the fabric of our most intimate relationships, and as we navigate an online culture together our gadgetry can be a real help, but also, at times, a definite hindrance.
So how do we deal positively with the presence of digital technology in our marriage, and what do we need to watch out for?
On the bright side, it creates new opportunities for communication within a marriage. If we use our digital resources positively, they can enhance our relationship and save us time as well.
• It’s too easy for all our texts and emails to be about dentist appointments and household errands. Try to also send regular messages of encouragement to each other. Kind words are a simple but powerful way of showing we care.
• Celebrate shared milestones on social media. Learning to cheer each other on publicly as well as privately can be a great support.
• While working away, platforms like Skype are the next best thing to being together. You can keep your marriage connected and see and hear each other for free, bypassing the need for expensive calls.
• Investigate useful tools such as shared calendars, budget plans, to-do lists, alerts for significant dates, wish lists and online ‘scrapbooks’ for home projects. These resources can save valuable time and help to avoid double booking dates or forgetting those oh-so-important details.
Reboot the system
Like all things in life, we need good boundaries and communication for technology to play a positive role in our marriage. Realistically, every new app or device we bring into our lives has the potential to distract us from what matters most. Sometimes we need to reboot our expectations together to ensure that our habits are healthy rather than a cause of digital strife.
• Try not to make assumptions about what your spouse is doing online. You may think they are playing Candy Crush again, but they might be researching new life insurance policies or a trip to Paris. (Anything’s possible!)
• Talk about screen and email boundaries. When are you not at work? Should meals be phone-free times? Should two nights a week be offline? Could the TV get rejected in favour of conversation at certain times? Should the bedroom remain a gadget-free zone?
• Identify screen-time that you can enjoy together. Maybe you like to regularly watch a particular box set series or surf the Internet for holidays or days out.
• It’s good to agree together what you will and won’t share on social media. Discuss sharing passwords so that trust and transparency are maintained.
• Consider disabling your notification alerts so that your phone and your laptop are not constantly pinging for attention. Decide how often to check your updates rather than allowing your time to be continually disrupted.
Unplug for safety
Although we all enjoy the benefits of technology, we also all have the potential to slip, a click at a time, into a private world of self-gratification, secrecy or even addiction. When we realise we are in danger, it takes courage and honesty to unplug, to reassess and to get help where necessary.
• Are you having conversations on Facebook or other sites that you withhold from your spouse? Are they less innocent than you are telling yourself they are? If so, step away from the keyboard and, if necessary, suspend your account.
• Do you get absorbed into hours of gaming, online shopping or gambling to the detriment of others around you? Is your spouse often asking you to step away from the console or the app? Try a month away from the game or site, and take steps to create healthy boundaries around your time and money.
• Are you watching pornography? How can you make sure that what you are watching alone is helpful to your relationship? Would it help if you shared the same bedtime with your spouse?
Technology is here to stay. It is on the sofa with us, on our desk at work and alongside us as we display every Instagram-friendly moment to friends near and far. So it makes sense for us to reflect upon how our digital life infiltrates our most precious relationships for better and for worse. After all, a marriage will only ever thrive when given the time and attention it needs – both inside and outside the Wi-Fi zone.
For more on this topic listen to the Marriage Challenge podcast from Sim and Lottie Dendy who share their experience of what it means to be married in a digital age.
Or watch it on YouTube here.