Is social media hurting your relationships?

Picture this - you're out for lunch together, you and your loved one, on a date. But every time you begin to talk, his phone rings, or yours does. You both feel it's important to at least check who is calling. It may be work, or a friend in need. By the time lunch is over, you've both spent more time responding to others than to each other.

Or does this scene sound familiar? You and your partner are winding down at home after a busy day at work. His way of winding down is to chat online to people who share his interest in sports. You relax by checking what's new with your friends on Facebook.

Or - you are the parent of a young person who is constantly on her phone or tablet checking out what her friends are up to, or playing games that seem much more interesting than talking to you. No matter what boundaries you try to enforce at home, it's feeling like a losing battle to insist on family connecting time.

All these scenarios are common, and in moderation may seem perfectly harmless. It's important to be responsive to work calls during business hours - right? We need to stay connected to our friends and hobbies as well as to each other.

It's when we start to privilege our connecting to social media over connecting to our partner and family members that this can be detrimental to our relationships. Relationships need time - time to talk, time to hang out together, time to get to know what is going on for each other, time to be close and/or intimate. Connection is to relationship what sun and water are to plants - without it the quality of our relationships will slowly wither and die.

It's about balance - making sure your most important relationships have a daily dose of uninterrupted time to connect. Make sure this time is used in a way that meets each person's needs. These may be different - one person may need to have the other's undivided attention to talk through problems they are having at work or at home. The other may simply long for some hanging out time - playing games, doing things together and having fun.

At the extreme, one person's choice to spend time on social media rather than with their partner can feel like a betrayal, even if no lines are being crossed (that is, no-one is flirting or being emotionally intimate with online 'friends' in a way that feels uncomfortable for their partner).

Making agreements together about how much time is OK to spend on social media, and what type of social media activities are OK may ensure you can maximise the benefits of living in our wonderfully rich techological age without jeopardising what is most important.

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