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Is technology interrupting your relationship? Tame ‘technoference’ with your partner

Technology isn’t to blame for relationship struggles… we are.

It’s a daily struggle that most people would admit to… but few truly understand the negative impacts.

Studio 5 Contributor Dr. Liz Hale shared how phones, screens, and social media aren’t just impacting our real-life relationships – they are killing our romance!


Last year, in the Annals of Psychology, it was noted that more than 6.5 billion people have mobile phones worldwide, and that the next billion people are predicted to acquire them in the next five years.

It should be said: not all technology is negative and hard on family life. We often benefit from smartphones and computers at different stages of family life, such as mobile apps that can lead a couple through stages of pregnancy, further helping them settle into a new reality, including following a baby’s daily routine. Social media or online forums also provide support for families facing mental illness or health problems.

However, most studies on technology misuse spotlight negative consequences in relationships. Due to the impact of technology, the family bond is prone to be diluted as face-to-face interactions disappear, and parents and children lose being in the same physical space sharing everyday activities.

Regarding psychosocial functioning, the problematic use of the Internet and mobile devices can lead to social dissatisfaction, interpersonal conflicts, anxiety, depression, and somatic health issues.

Technoference in Marriage

A specific study done by Dr. Bradon McDonald examined the frequency of technoference in romantic relationships, and the vast majority of participants perceived that technology devices (computers, cells, or television) frequently interrupted their interactions during leisure time, conversations, and mealtimes with their partners. Overall, participants who rated more technoference in their relationships also reported more conflict over technology use, lower relationships satisfaction, more depressive symptoms, and lower life satisfaction.

Do Not Blame Technology

Technology is not to blame – we are! Dr. Liz doesn’t want technology to be viewed negatively in and of itself, but due to its ever-present and always-on nature, technology has the potential to interrupt face-to-face interactions on the daily. Consider where to place personal limitations on technology. Ask yourself, “Where does technology interrupt my interactions with loved ones?” and make a small change.

When Liz’s husband, Ben, drove them somewhere, she, too, would be driving! It did not go well. These days, life in the car is very different. Ben calls it, “Driving Miss. Lizzy.” Now, she enjoys the view, plays their favorite music, and answers texts or emails. She said she learned something the hard way though: by the time Ben parks and walks around to get her door, she has to be ready to hop out of the car! So if you ever receive a text from Liz that abruptly ends, you know that her time was up!

Don’t Ban It, Man It

It is likely that the relationship between technoference and depression is bidirectional. We feel depressed, so we use technology to cope with our problems. Or, our partner chooses technology over togetherness, so we feel depressed. Either way, face-to-face connection is critical.

As a couple, ask yourselves this question, “Where is technology a source of conflict for us?” The answer is not to ban technology, but man it.

Technology devices directly interrupt interpersonal interactions. As a couple and family, discuss when to silence or turn off devices, what calls to answer vs send to voicemail after a certain time of day, and establish guidelines around mealtimes, leisure times, bedtimes, and mornings.

Let Perceptions Rule

Perceptions rule the day AND the decisions about technology. In this study, the frequency of interruptions or interference that women experienced with their partner due to technology, such as cell phones, smartphones, computers, televisions, and tablets, found that those who PERCEIVED more frequent technoference tended to show lower relationship satisfaction, greater depressive symptoms, and lower life satisfaction.

This result coincides with previous research that found that problematic cell phone use or social networking sites is connected to greater depressive symptoms, lower satisfaction with family life, and lower relationship quality due to our perceptions about what we see.

When your partner tells you what troubles them about your cell phone use, believe them! Answer to their perceptions; not your “facts” or what your Screen Time shows.

Be Uninterruptible

It is difficult to have a meaningful conversation with, pay attention to, and truly listen to one’s partner when daily interactions are intermittently interrupted by technology.

When partners place their technology above their partner, even for a brief moment, they start to sow seeds of conflict in their romantic relationships, easily leading to negative outcomes.

Too often we multitask with technology while interacting with each other. This result is being “alone together,” where we are physically together in the same room but we are more involved with our separate technology devices than we are with each other.

Some evidence found that media multitasking was related to reduced face-to-face contact and several negative social outcomes among 8 to 12-year-old girls, such as in difficulty making and keeping friends. It is no different in our romantic connections. If we want to make and keep our best friend, we need to look up and increase our face-to-face time.

Dr. Liz Hale is the Studio 5 Marriage & Family Coordinator. As a marriage therapist for more than 25 years, she is passionate about helping relationships survive and thrive! She works hard on keeping her own relationships healthy and strong. But don’t stand in her way of a daily, sanity-maintaining brisk walk (just ask her husband, Ben)!

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