Every year (through our local church) my wife Sarah and I attend a weekend marriage retreat in Palm Springs. Most years the lessons taught are fairly straightforward, albeit (as might be expected with evangelicals) moderately questionable as they relate to gender roles. We get some good meals out of it though, along with an important dose of teen-free time, so generally it’s a fairly innocuous 🙄-type situation.
This year, however, a major focus was on the importance of prioritizing real-world connection (and more specifically, direct eye-to-eye contact) in an increasingly screen-filled world. In other words, things escalated fairly quickly into “ok, boomer”-adjacent territory.
To be clear, I’m certainly not arguing that real-world conversations aren’t an essential part of relationships, but there’s absolutely some troubling low-key vilification of digital behavior within relationships emanating from oldschool church leadership, and it’s something that I’d personally love to see nipped in the bud.
I think the heart of the issue is that for those that grew up in a pre-web world (or first encountered the Internet through the “stay vigilant! it’s porn as far as the eye can see!” evangelical lens), the medium tends to be seen as a “place” that a spouse visits alone, done at the expense of spending real-world time with his/her partner.
It’s almost taken for granted that each spouse’s online interactions will be separate, and reflective of their different offline interests and hobbies (“men and women are soooo different, lol, amirite?” and such).
As a baby Gen-Xer/Methuselah Millennial that’s been with the same partner both online and offline for more than 22 years, here are some tips on building up the digital side of your relationship:
- Nobody “goes on” the Internet anymore. Digital life and real life are inseparable, and will only become more so as devices become wearable/start disappearing into your body. This offers a great chance to be present and share the world together at any time, even if you’re not close physically.
- There are so many common online interests to develop and share together, from news updates, games and memes to clips/trailers from your favorite shows and movies. Sharing things with your partner (or even better, sharing things that make them laugh) throughout the day makes for a powerful bond.
- Nobody wants a spouse that avoids social events and just stays isolated in the bedroom during dinner parties (note: this is of course, my personal dream, but I resist). If you’re the spouse that “doesn’t go on social media,” you’re that person, and you’re making your partner feel abandoned in online conversations.
- Backchannels! Nothing brings you closer to your partner than the ability to (lovingly, of course 😬) blow off steam via a private text thread during live events.
- Building strong digital communication muscles helps both of you (individually and as a couple) engage and build friendships with those that are more introverted, or just express themselves best digitally. If a new game or social media platform comes out, don’t dismiss it as being something pointless for young people, take time to investigate it. Be all things to all people, my friends, and who knows, you might even stay mildly relevant for slightly longer! 🙂
One final note: are you part of a couple with a great face-to-face relationship that loves long, heartfelt phone calls and generally avoids the Internet? Great! You do you. Just please keep in mind that your approach may not resonate with others, and that advice on marital communication in 2019 is as far from one-size-fits-all as it’s ever been.