According to Marc Prensky, an educationalist from the US, there are two types of people. On the one hand there are digital natives, and on the other digital immigrants.
If you would like to know which group you fit into, imagine you are out and about and you see two people who are obviously a couple. They are having lunch together or engaged in some similar activity, but instead of focussing on each other they are both glued to their phones. If you think this is a bit sad, you are a digital immigrant. If you think it’s normal, you’re a native of the digital world.
Fergal Rooney, a senior counselling psychologist and relationship therapy expert, seems to find these definitions helpful in understanding the impact that social media can have on relationships. He has said that it is no longer unusual for clients to get their phones out during sessions. They will use it to read out their texts or point towards posts on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Social Media as a Barrier
Of course, it is far from every couple who experience problems that relate to social media. It is most likely to happen when the two people in the relationship have very different views on the subject. One partner may be entirely at home with social media and see it as an integral part of life. In other words, that partner may be a digital native. The other half of the couple, however, may not have accepted social media as such a central part of modern existence.
The result of this can be arguments over the amount of time the digital native partner spends using social media, how extensively children should be allowed to access technology, and what information is too private to share online.
Social media can even impact on couples’ sex lives. With social media accessible on many devices, its use can extend into the night and into the bedroom. This can also cause disruption to regular sleep patterns, and further interfere with sex by leaving digital natives too tired for physical intimacy.
This is to say nothing of tensions that can arise from one partner remaining friends with an ex on sites such as Facebook.
Of course, relationship counselling professionals encounter a very specific sample of couples who have been affected by social media. A survey in Ireland recently found that 83% of respondents felt their relationship with friends was improved by technology. When it came to relationships with their partners, this figure dropped relatively little, still standing at 73%.
The survey also highlighted an opinion among parents of 5-17 year olds. 80% of this group felt that family life was made more harmonious by technology as it proves useful for keeping their children amused.
In short, technology has the potential to impact positively on relationships. But there are also tensions and potential problems, particularly when only one partner is a digital native, and these are factors which couples should be aware of and strive to overcome before problems mount up.