In this digital age, while we feel ‘plugged in’ to what is happening around us, in reality, many of our personal relationships are suffering while we scramble to keep up with what’s happening in the digital world. And that means it’s more important than ever to practice connecting with the people around us, so we can maintain healthy friendships and relationships.
In an age of desktop computers, laptops and TV, it’s become harder and harder to find time to find an ‘off’ button. Between smart watches, smart phones and our obsession with social media, we’re in a constant and continual state of connectivity – in fact, Australians now spend more than 10 hours a day connected through internet devices, and according to the Ernst and Young 2016 ‘Digital Report’, 25% of people surveyed said they spent more time on their smart phones than talking to family, friends and partners.
Have real conversations, not virtual ones
There are loads of reasons why people choose to communicate in a digital way- a text is quicker, often more convenient and can’t be overheard. Online shopping can be done any time that suits you, in the comfort of your own home. The advantages are many, and they’re tempting for time-poor mums. But, according to Relationships Australia NSW Practice leader David Roberts, these kinds of transactions are no replacement for the real thing as they’re devoid of any emotional stretch or satisfaction as they provide no stimulation for the senses.
“We are fully embodied beings,” Mr Roberts tells North Shore Mums. “Touch, smell, a sense of presence are all important -and really these are not available via the internet.”
When it comes to your relationship, the same principle applies. Emotional connection is really only achievable face-to-face. However good or useful online relationships or penpals are, they can never fully replace a face to face relationship, which comes with emotional challenges but the joy of real connection.
Respect your partner’s privacy
You might be of the belief that a relationship is a partnership, which comes with a ‘right’ to know everything your partner is doing – but this approach may do more harm than good. A whopping 41% of people in a UK study said they’d snooped through their partner’s phone, but it’s crucial to resist the urge to read your partners emails and Facebook messages, because in doing so you’re breaching their trust and showing that you’re not confident they are being truthful. Elisabeth Shaw from Relationships Australia NSW says snooping is a violation of trust, and any concerns should be talked about instead. “Talk to your partner if you have concerns,” she says. “An honest and open dialogue can save you from behaviour that indicates a lack of trust.”
Put your phone away at the table
You don’t have to be an etiquette expert to observe how impolite it is to sit with your phone on the table and check emails when you’re with company. If you’re expecting an urgent text or email, turn your phone off until the time it is expected and then excuse yourself for a few minutes.
When you’re with children at the table, see your behaviour through their eyes and imagine how disconnected a conversation feels when mum or dad is checking their Facebook status while asking them about their day. It’s important to always give your full attention when engaging so your child feels secure in your interest and worth your time and attention.
Be present in your relationships
You’re finally home from work, university or school after a long and busy day, but instead of engaging with your partner, one of you keeps checking their phone throughout the night. It’s not a great way to spend quality time together and maintain your connection to each other, but in today’s world it’s a common habit, and one that can cause strain between an otherwise happy couple.
In fact, a 2014 Pew Research poll found that 1 in 4 mobile users found their partner too distracted by their mobile phone, and 1 in 10 had arguments with their partner about the excessive use of their mobile phone.
You can combat this tension, David Roberts says, by remembering to take a balanced approach. If we can find ways to balance our online and offline worlds, we are on our way to communicating better in our real relationships.
Technology can be an amazing tool to foster new relationships, to stay in touch when we are traveling away from home, to meet like-minded people and to book tickets for a great date night. Now in the 21st Century, where the compulsion to check our phones seems greater than our craving for a real life breathing connection – we need to draw some healthy boundaries to preserve stimulating conversation, laughter, tears, hugs, smells and the peaceful delight of sitting quietly together with someone we care about.
If you need support for a personal issue, you can contact Relationships Australia NSW on 1300 364 277. Relationships Australia NSW is a not-for-profit organisation, dedicated to building stronger relationships with expertise in relationships, families, domestic and family violence, parenting and separation. Their range of services include individual, relationship and family counselling, family dispute resolution (mediation) and group courses. They have centres across Northern Sydney (locations including Macquarie Park, Neutral Bay and Dee Why) and are available after hours and on weekends. More.