Toronto Star

When Plugging into Technology Means Tuning out of a Relationship
Published On Wed Nov 30 2011
Tania Haas Special to The Star

I’m jealous of my husband’s BlackBerry. That’s a theme clinical psychologist Dr. Jane Dalton hears a lot during her therapy sessions.

“Any smartphone can represent a threat to the security or safety of a relationship. It can leave one person wondering if they are important,” says Dalton who specializes in treating couples at the Clinic on Dupont, an alternative health care centre that assesses and treats psychological problems. “It’s really hard to carve out a space without technology.”

Smartphones and tablets like the iPad are not only lightweight and easy to use, but their role in our daily lives is increasing. A recent study found that tablet users in the U.S. aged 18 to 64 years spend about 4 hours, 20 minutes on the Internet daily. Knowledge Networks, an online research firm, found that Internet time on mobile phones for the 18-to-64 population has tripled in just a year — to 25 minutes in 2011 from seven minutes in 2010. Dalton says the couples who are most at risk to a gadget wedging between them already have security issues. “I like to recommend that couples create time that is carved out for just for them,” she says. “A date night every week, or reconnecting for 30 minutes every day without having a phone ringing.”

Erum Hasan, 31, an environmental consultant and mother of two children, notices the creeping presence of technology every day. “I feel as though checking emails has become more of a reflex than a thought out exercise,” says Hasan. “I haven’t been jealous per se of my husband’s iPhone, but I am aware that the moments we have together, alone, are rare and I want to make the most of them,” says Hasan.

The technology dance is also a delicate one for newly engaged couple Charissa deKoninck, 28, and Sunir Chandaria, 32. While they credit BlackBerry Messenger for bringing them together, both say boundaries are necessary. “Sometimes Sunir’s work is a bit hectic and he needs to be on his BlackBerry 24/7,” says deKoninck, a marketing manager for an international auditing firm. “It doesn’t bother me as I recognize that work is important to him and he generally knows where I draw the line.” Chandaria works at a multinational family business and needs to be plugged into his phone in case of an emergency. He says, “I have been instructed to turn my BlackBerry on its face when we turn into bed.” And while phones are allowed in this couple’s bedroom, they have a name for the bright light their phones emit by the bedside. They call it “BlackBerry torture.”

For Garry Pejski, 33, and Tammy Sturge, 50, phones are strictly forbidden near the bed. “We usually both have our phones charged at night in other rooms. Plus we both love sleep too much to risk being woken up,” says Pejski. Dalton says acceptable phone usage is unique to each couple’s needs. What’s most important, she says, is safeguarding the relationship. She recommends that when your partner’s phone habits become a bother; approach the matter openly and non-critically.

By directly expressing your feelings and needs, she says, it gives the partner a chance to know what you want without feeling criticized or attacked. But the appeal of the latest gadget can be a tough competitor to an ignored lover, especially when the latest phones are designed to be automatically responsive to its user’s needs.

“Who needs a husband when you have Siri (on the iPhone 4S) reminding you to pick up milk?” says Barb Tong, 40, a television producer. “It doesn’t nag you, it helps you.”

To see the article in the Toronto Star, visit: http://www.thestar.com/living/article/1094178–when-plugging-into-technology-means-tuning-out-of-a-relationship