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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

The digital era is a boon for romance.�The online dating site eHarmony, alone, claims credit for more than half a million marriages and counting. Smartphones and social media have revolutionized long-distance relationships. But, turns out there's a downside here. Marriage counselors are hearing about the friction that can emerge when couples and their digital devices are all in the same room. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: Dinner's over, the dishes done. And, like millions of couples everywhere, Carolyn and Sorin Popescu sit down in their south Florida home to watch TV - together - but not really.

Ms. CAROLYN POPESCU: I mean, I would make a reference to something on the TV and he'd say, huh, what?

LUDDEN: Sorin's on his iPhone - again - sending work e-mails.

Ms. POPESCU: Oh that's funny, yeah. And put his head back down and keep typing. So you miss a little bit of closeness that way.

LUDDEN: The couple's had spats over this, including one beachfront argument where Carolyn threatened to rip the iPhone out of Sorin's hands and throw it in the water. Still, Sorin says the problem didn't really hit him until their daughter Lina was born.

Mr. SORIN POPESCU: Carolyn would hold her up, talk to her, play with her, and I would be busy with my emails. And then by the time I would finish she would be getting tired and falling asleep again.

Mr. MARSHALL CRITES: Text messages. Ding. Ding. Ding. Text message comes through.

LUDDEN: For Marshall Crites in Portland, Oregon, the constant distractions - at dinner, on weekends, while out - drive him crazy. He worries something's being lost.

Mr. CRITES: Like, honey, I realize we're driving in the car, and you're on your phone, and your contention is, well, I'm driving, and my contention is, well, if you weren't on your phone, though, we would be talking.

LUDDEN: Then there's this scene from a 21st-century marriage. Crites says he and his wife have the board game Scrabble and love it. But...

Mr. CRITES: Last night, for about a half an hour after we both went to bed, we were each playing Scrabble against computers on our cell phones. Her on her side of the bed looking one way, me laying on my back, both playing Scrabble.

(Soundbite of laughter)

It's pretty disgusting if you ask me.

Ms. TARA FRITSCH (Marriage Counselor): The digital age hasn't introduced this problem. It simply gives us a more convenient means of checking out.

LUDDEN: Tara Fritsch is a marriage counselor in Edmond, Oklahoma. She's hearing more and more clients complain about a spouse whose body may be right there, but whose mind is off in cyberspace.�Some say the best way to get their spouse's attention is to send a text - from the next room. Others complain that late-night emailing cuts into their sex life.

Dr. EDWARD HALLOWELL (Psychiatrist): Closeness depends upon this rapidly disappearing phenomenon of undivided attention spread over time.

LUDDEN: Edward Hallowell is a psychiatrist, and the co-author of "Married to Distraction." He says just think of trying to complete a work project amid a stream of interruptions.

Dr. HALLOWELL: What you give up at work is depth.�And what you give up in relationships is intimacy.

LUDDEN: Hallowell advises clients to quash their Pavlovian response.�Go to lunch, take in a nice dinner and turn the BlackBerry off.�Therapist Fritsch tells couples to show each other the same respect they'd give their boss.

Ms. FRITSCH: If your boss approached you and wanted to have a conversation with you, would you continue to surf the net while talking to them? You probably wouldn't.�You would have the respect and the courtesy to look away.

LUDDEN: In Florida, the Popescus have set new ground rules. Sorin limits texting until after baby Lina's in bed. And Carolyn is allowed three interruptions a night. She says it's all in the tone.

Ms. POPESCU: I think it's a firm request. Please put it down.

Mr. POPESCU: Firm is one way of saying it.�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. POPESCU: Stern.

Ms. POPESCU: Bossy.�

Mr. POPESCU: Yes, exactly.�I know when she's serious, let's just put it this way.

LUDDEN: OK. Negotiating boundaries in the digital age is an ongoing process.�But the Popescus say they'll keep talking it out, face to face.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.�

INSKEEP: Cell phones and social media can also play a role in infidelity. Jennifer looks at that tonight on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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