Modern electronic media has had a big impact on relationships, especially in the last two decades. Between romantic comedies and social media we are surrounded by seemingly perfect couples. On the flip side it’s never been easier to stay in touch with loved ones or improve real-time communication. Whether we like it or not, media is interwoven within our lives and marriages. Like many things in life, media use can be helpful or harmful in our relationships, depending on how it’s used.
Media as a Coping Mechanism
More than ever before, we are able to carry our digital coping mechanisms everywhere we go by always having our phones in our pockets. Media can be a tempting way to distance yourself from a situation without actually addressing it. Anytime you are feeling anxious, bored, or are uncomfortable within a situation all you have to do is grab your phone and immediately you’re distracted. While this can be very convenient it often replaces more healthy coping mechanisms.
When one spouse is constantly using media as a coping mechanism it often leaves the other spouse feeling left out, especially if it’s a form of media they can’t personally participate in with you. When media and technology interfere with interactions between you and your spouse it’s called technoference.1 Technoference happens when you are using media rather than giving another person in the room your full attention. This tends to happen more often than we’d like to admit.
In our interview with McCall Booth, a Phd candidate at Indiana University, she reminds us that any time spent using media is taking up time that you could have spent doing anything else. While using media when your spouse is in the room doesn’t necessarily erase that time spent together it does corrupt it.
When you’re driving in the car with your spouse and they (the passenger) is on their phone. When you’re playing video games while your spouse cooks dinner. When you’re listening to a podcast as you walk in the door half greeting your spouse or kids, taking a phone call or checking a text in the middle of a conversation with your spouse, the list goes on and on. There are countless ways media can interrupt relationship bonding moments.
When technoference is a problem in marriage there are less positive face-to-face interactions, lower relationship satisfaction, poorer communication, and lower sexual satisfaction.2 “While technoference does not occur in solitude, and it may not replace interactions altogether, this behavior does lower the amount of mutually beneficial conversations and experiences with romantic partners2.” Even small interruptions may leave your spouse feeling hurt or not heard. It’s really easy to miss a bid for attention or affection from your spouse with technoference.
In a study conducted by McCall Booth, it was found that as husbands increase in technoference, over time the husbands believe that their wives are less engaged, accessible, and responsive. When this occurs, wives may feel as if the efforts they place into the relationship are not reciprocated; thus, they themselves may be less responsive to the husband’s actions. This tells us that not only does technoference interfere with your spouse’s responsiveness, it may interfere with your own as well.
Technoference is sneaky, and many of us don’t even realize how it negatively affects our marriages. McCall recommends that in marriages where at least one spouse is frequently using their mobile device, boundaries are to be set in order to protect your marriage and the benefit of being responsive to one another.
Strengthening Relationships through Media Use
Modern media is so accessible! It’s really incredible what you can do at the push of a button or flick of a wrist! Isn’t it so interesting that something that can hinder communication can also do the complete opposite and strengthen it? Media can be a great way to bond with your spouse and show them that you care when used correctly.
Text Messaging. Whether you’re sending a funny meme or taking a quick photo to send to your spouse, text messaging can be a great way to interact throughout the day in a fun, low-pressure way. Exchange the highs and the lows throughout the day. Calling your spouse during your lunch break can also be a connecting and positive use of technology.
Digital Calendars. Digital calendars are another great way to strengthen relationships. Being able to communicate what is going on throughout the day or week via a digital calendar doesn’t take much verbal communication but it surely lessens some of the not so fun “you missed this, you forgot about this, I didn’t know we were doing that” conversations.
Gaming or Movies. For some couples gaming is a hobby they enjoy together, something where they are able to bond, talk, and interact. Movies or streaming are a time to cuddle, relax, and let go of the stress you felt throughout the day. While both of these things may not necessarily evoke deep conversation, they can be a way to bond over a shared interest.
Educational Apps, Books, and Blogs. These forms of media can inspire and educate. The Intimately Us app provides countless conversation starters, games to play together, and resources to help you explore your relationship more deeply. Just as the Intimately Us App can help couples, books, coaches and blogs are able to do the same.
How Media Can Hurt Your Marriage
Whether or not a certain form of media usage is harmful to your marriage is very unique to each person, each marriage, and their surroundings. One thing that may be very hurtful to one marriage may be completely fine or bonding for another marriage.
Excessive use. Are you spending more time with media or technology than you are with your spouse? If you feel that your podcast, instagram feed, or video/internet gaming is more enjoyable or fulfilling than your marriage or other “real life” events, that is a good sign that media is hurting your marriage.
Addictive behavior is hard to stop and even harder to recognize. McCall mentioned in our podcast interview that most people under-report their media usage.
Disagreements about usage. If your spouse is unhappy with the way you use media or technology, boundaries need to be set. For example, if one spouse doesn’t like the amount of personal information shared on Facebook or the manner in which they or their family are depicted, then sharing those things is harming your marriage.
Domino Effect. The domino effect is when one spouse is on their phone so the other spouse pulls out their phone. If you find you and your spouse both on your phone in the same bed or on the same couch with nothing else going on – are you missing out on an opportunity to connect emotionally or physically?
A Pew Research study actually found 25% of cell phone owners in a long-term relationship felt their partner was distracted by phone use while they were together. That’s a pretty eye opening number!
Creating Healthy Boundaries
Setting boundaries surrounding media, even if you don’t feel it is a problem in your marriage, is a healthy marriage practice. Here are some guidelines to help you set some media guidelines within your marriage.
Make Your Spouse Your Priority
If any form of media becomes more important than your spouse, that is a good indication something isn’t right.
Decide Your Why
Deciding in advance why you choose to use different forms of media can be really helpful when reprioritizing your time.
Decide Your Level of Privacy
Talk with one another about what is acceptable and not acceptable to post or talk about on social media. Decide what is strictly out of bounds to share on the internet and what you are both okay with.
Make a plan to manage your screen time. This can include when to use media, when not to use media, how long you use media, and what types of media you both agree is acceptable. If one or both of you currently have addictive behaviors to media or technology, remember to set realistic goals or boundaries.
Whatever boundaries you and your spouse decide on, do so with purpose, intention, and excitement to increase intimacy between the two of you. If the boundaries don’t seem to work, revisit and revise them to be realistic and effective.
A conversation about media and technology boundaries is always worth having.
Like what you read? Be sure to listen to the full podcast episode here and download the Intimately Us app, the fun and sexy app for your marriage! It’s full of games, connecting activities, and ideas to increase connection and pleasure in the bedroom.
- McDaniel, B. T., Coyne, S. M. (2016b). “Technoference”: The interference of technology in couple relationships and implications for women’s personal and relational well-being. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5(1), 85–98. https://doi-org.dist.lib.usu.edu/10.1037/ppm0000065
- Booth, M. A., Coyne, S. M., Yorgason, J. B., & Dew, J. P. (2021). Domestic bliss, or technological diss? Problematic media use, partner responsiveness, and relationship outcomes. Journal of Social & Personal Relationships, 1. https://doi-org.dist.lib.usu.edu/10.1177/02654075211031000