Health & Medicine

Is technology ruining your marriage?

Do you take your laptop to bed so you can check e-mails before going to sleep? Do you prefer listening to your iPod instead of talking to your spouse? Then technology may be creating a wedge in your marriage and becoming a source of unhappiness at home.

Technology is an insidious culprit. We rely on it for work. It’s the perfect backup when we need emergency aid.

But it expands into our spare time as well.

We watch TV on gigantic plasma screens and post pictures on Facebook of our recent camping trip. In fact, we lust after new forms of technology merely for their novelty and gotta-have-’em status.

The technology itself is innocent. Heck, it’s nothing more than screens, blinking lights and buttons. And there are endless ways to be distracted. We can zone out with books, motorcycles, exercise, politics, or quilting.

It’s the way we allow it to distract us that becomes problematic. We’re apt to tune out everything else around us while watching sports on ESPN or texting friends. We don’t want to be interrupted. If we do engage with others during commercials, or while we’re browsing the web, we do so in techno-time. We look up absently and ask “What do you need? Make it quick, please,” before staring back at our screen.

This behavior sends a bad message. It clearly tells loved ones, “You’re not important to me.” A husband who takes a nonessential cell phone call while he’s hiking with his wife not only disturbs the tranquility of the moment but bumps her into the emotional waiting room while he tends to something else.

The use of technology can be annoying, too. A young man recently accompanied his parents to our home, then spent the evening either furiously tapping away on his cell phone or reading incoming messages sent from friends.

Technology is especially disturbing when it invades our bedrooms. First, it squelches intimacy. Research shows that couples who have TVs in their bedrooms have sex half as often as those who don’t.

It also interferes with sleep. Scientists have found that the bright lights of a computer screen wreak havoc with our biological clocks, suppressing the natural production of melatonin that is so critical for a sound night’s rest. Even when technological items are turned off, their power sources and rechargers can illuminate a room and keep a light sleeper tossing all night.

The good news is that technology and marital bliss are compatible. We don’t have to choose between our BlackBerry and our spouse. The key lies in establishing viable priorities. Relationships must come first. Technology needs to place a distant second. Once that hierarchy’s been firmly established, there’s plenty of time for those gadgets with keypads and screens.

Tips for tuning out technology

To keep technology from interfering with your relationship, follow these simple steps:

• Make face-to-face contact a top priority. Allow for a minimum of 30 minutes of conversation every day with your loved one. Review the events of your lives. Discuss upcoming plans. Resolve issues as they arrive. Your efforts will strengthen the relationship and let your partner know you care.

• Create technology-free periods at home. Silence all cell phones during dinner. Turn computers and TVs off after 9 p.m. Setting clear-cut limits makes it obvious that the people — not the machines — are in control of the house.

• Use your iPod only when you’re alone. Zoning out to your iPod when there are others in the room is rude. You might as well post a large sign reading “You don’t matter to me” on your forehead. Save this cool little gizmo for the treadmill at the gym or walking by yourself to class.

• Keep the TV and computer out of the bedroom. Reserve this private area of your home for sleep, quiet time and intimacy.

• Use travel time. Long car trips are the perfect opportunity to talk and connect. Yes, audiobooks are a terrific invention. But don’t let them cut into your personal conversations.

• Be sensitive to your partner’s requests. If your spouse wants time to talk, that’s your signal to turn off the gadget and dialogue. Don’t get into an argument about it. That only makes things worse.

• Schedule outings away from the home. Go to the beach. Kayak at Morro Bay. Attend a concert in the park. Enjoy plenty of time together that isn’t interrupted by a text or ringtone.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit