When Social Media And Romance Mix, It's Complicated While social media and smartphones can make our lives more convenient, they can also make create problems for our personal relationships. Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell says he sees often couples whose problems stem from their attachment to technology. But others say technology has brought them closer together.

When Social Media And Romance Mix, It's Complicated

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When you get home from work, do you forego conversation with your significant other to check your BlackBerry during dinner, or update your Facebook status in bed? If so, you may want to turn the radio up for our next segment. All throughout the program today, we're exploring how the digital devices that make our lives more convenient can make our personal relationships more complicated, especially the romantic variety.

That's what Edward Hallowell told us.

DR. EDWARD HALLOWELL: My name is Edward Hallowell. I'm an M.D., a psychiatrist.

MARTIN: Hallowell says he sees couples whose problems stem from their attachment to technology a lot.

HALLOWELL: All the time, every day; it comes up all the time where the one spouse is literally alienated by the ongoing presence of an iPhone or a laptop in their conversations.

MARTIN: Our devices can distract us from our partners. And over time, he says that can erode emotional intimacy.

HALLOWELL: You really do need time and attention in order to feel empathy, in order to feel trust, in order to feel closeness. Particularly busy working couples don't know how to turn it off.

MARTIN: So, there are downsides to our digital habits. But some couples say technology has actually brought them closer together.

ROB COTTINGHAM: We embrace technology and we embrace each other.

MARTIN: This is Rob Cottingham and his wife.

ALEXANDRA SAMUEL: I'm Alexandra when I'm Alexandra Samuel. But feel free to call me Alex.

MARTIN: These two have made social media an integral part of their marriage. They tweet each other so much that they won a Shorty Award - a social media award for best Twitter couple. They also curate their tweets on a website. Alexandra says the key to keeping technology in its place within a romantic partnership is to be deliberate about how you use it.

SAMUEL: For us, the question is always is this something that's actually strengthening our relationship? Or is this something that is distracting from it?

COTTINGHAM: And we found and kind of negotiated boundaries with technology. I think that one of the cool things is the way that it augments the communication that we're having face-to-face instead of taking away or distracting from it.

MARTIN: Can you give me an example of a time when you were both online and in some way, and one of you said to the other: you know what, I think we should stop?


SAMUEL: No. Well, so here's the thing, Rachel. The beautiful thing about our marriage is we found another person who shares the same level of connectivity compulsion.


COTTINGHAM: So I think, too, there are times where will notice that there is a conversation that's going to work a lot better face-to-face. You know, where you're able to convey emotions more richly or capture nuance or, you know, avoid saying something that's going to be to be misunderstood, and put the devices down from either end of the sofa and actually turn to each other and talk.


MARTIN: You're exaggerating, but does that happen? Are you guys texting each other in the house?

SAMUEL: Oh, yeah. Oh, we're not exaggerating at all. I mean, it is not atypical for us to be sitting side-by-side in bed, on the sofa, out for dinner and be tweeting. I know that sounds crazy.

MARTIN: It kind of sounds crazy.

SAMUEL: Well, so I think what is helpful to understand is we're both people who love to play with words. So when we're tweeting back-and-forth, it's just we're playing with tweets or we're playing with the Internet; we're shooting links back and forth.

MARTIN: Really using the medium.

SAMUEL: Yeah, exactly.

MARTIN: We talked to one therapist who said that technology in some ways strips away the messiness of working out conflicts. And that, that is not necessarily where intimacy happens. Have you to thought about that?

SAMUEL: Well, you know, I'm always skeptical of any broad statements about technology does this or technology does that. I mean, technology isn't neutral, but people can also use technology to make things very messy, very dramatic. And, you know, you really do see that full spectrum online the same way you see a full spectrum offline.

I don't think it really creates distance for us. I think, if anything, it brings us closer together. But that's, again, because part of the reason we connected is 'cause we're both huge geeks.


COTTINGHAM: I think it also speaks to the need to examine things that are large part of your relationship and a large part of the way that you interact, whether it's the way that you talk with each other face-to-face or the way that you're tweeting back-and-forth, or sharing things on Facebook.

It is important to step back and ask yourself, you know, how is this working for us, and not just how is this working for, you know, the median population or the latest people to be profiled on the front page of a newspaper or on a radio show. But how is this working for the people that I care most about?


MARTIN: Is everything is fair game when it comes to what you tweet about? Or are there some things that you think, hey, Alex, why did you bring that up on Twitter or Facebook? That was something that we should keep to ourselves?

COTTINGHAM: I think that arguing on Facebook or Twitter is an enormous mistake. There are conversations that you need to have face-to-face, because you need to be able to pick up on those subconscious cues and understand where somebody is vulnerable or expressing something beyond what they're saying, and where you're able to do that active process of loving the other person. And it's very difficult to do that using the ASCII character set.

MARTIN: Alexander Samuel and Rob Cottingham. Thanks so much for talking with us, both of you. We really appreciate it.

SAMUEL: Thank you.

COTTINGHAM: Thank you.


MARTIN: You'll find photos and links to our Intimacy and Technology Series online at npr.org. And you can share your stories on our Facebook page or join the conversation on Twitter @nprweekend. Or you can reach me @nprrachel.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.


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