Excessive use of electronics is not a neutral activity when it comes to relationships – it takes time away from family and partners. In our house it can feel as if my husband’s electronics rule my life. If I ask a question or sound speculative about anything, the first thing he does is whip out his phone to look up the answer. He views it as being helpful and interesting. I view it as a distraction that pulls his attention away from me and from our conversation.
Then there is the computer. It shows up for breakfast (reading the daily news), lunch (reading more daily news…or email) and sometimes even in the time slot before dinner I had thought we had reserved for chatting (“just finishing up – you go ahead with cooking dinner.”) Oh yes, and before bed (finishing up reading interesting stuff – his version of the bedtime book.) Sometimes I benefit from his computing, like when he checks to eliminate spam from my website. Often I don’t.
It’s a Matter of Time…
Each time, my husband is making a choice – to spend his precious time with something other than me.
This would be okay if he had unlimited time. He could just spend time with me later. But time is a “currency” which is most definitely NOT infinite, and certainly not in our household these days. It would probably also be okay if it were clear that his choices were clearly beneficial to him or us both. Often, that’s not at all clear. He’s seems to have simply “wandered off” into something interesting on the internet.
…and the Hyperfocus and Distraction of the Internet
The internet is a time sink just made for ADHD – fast paced, infinitely variable and interesting, silent, and accommodating of any whim or direction. The internet is the ultimate unlimited, non-judgmental, rapid-fire, in-the-moment choice-making tool. Which means it is a great fit for the way the ADHD mind works. And even, if you listen to Jonathan Franzen of the New York Times, somewhat erotic. (His words are that the technology world “has become extremely adept at creating products that correspond to our fantasy ideal of an erotic relationship, in which the beloved object asks for nothing and gives everything, instantly, and makes us feel all powerful…a world so responsive to wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.”)
Come On, It’s Not Just Work!
There are some things that absolutely, positively must be done on the computer. Most of us couldn’t complete our work without it, for example. But what about that fifth newspaper, or Reddit, or all those cat pictures people are so fond of? Facebook? Twitter? The latest game? What about looking up every single response to every single question that comes into your head?
Though I have opinions about what I myself value in the virtual world, and what I think is critical, I understand completely that my husband values different things. He has every right to pick what those things are and to appropriate his time as he sees fit. I don’t own him and I can’t dictate to him what he can and can’t do. That’s not my job, nor do I wish it to be.
But I can lobby when I think our relationship is drifting off track for some reason. And that’s what I’ve been doing lately. Respectfully letting him know that he simply doesn’t seem to have enough time for me these days and that something needs to give as I feel myself starting to feel neglected.
Getting Back on Track
There are all sorts of ways he can respond to my concerns:
- He may choose to address his limited time by lessening his non-working time on the computer. I have, in fact, proposed this, suggesting we experiment with “electronics free” blocks of time on the weekends and around dinner (he has yet to agree.)
- He may choose to free up time elsewhere – such as traveling less (he’s gone 3-5 days a week) and taking more meetings virtually.
- He may decide to hand back some of the care of my website to me (yuk!).
- He may free up time by asking me to hire out the work around the house that he is currently slated to do.
- He may decide to focus more intently on me when we are together (vs. wandering off to do something on his own) so that the time he spends on the computer seems like less of a big deal.
How Do I Get My Partner To Change?
This is a good example of “partnering” to address an important issue. No matter how much I dislike my husband’s computer use I do realize his activities are not mine to control. There is a natural and necessary limit to my power. I, therefore, must ask him for his attention to this issue. I’m not nagging. Not threatening. If I care about this I must convince him to make different choices. Couples often ask “how do I get my partner to change something?” This is how. A respectful way of dealing with your partner is the best (and often only) way you can affect long-term change.
I’m happy to report that after several conversations about this topic my husband was able to understand the degree of my concern and is empathetic. In fact, he agrees. Turns out we both miss spending more time focused on each other. He had simply gotten into the habit of getting "lost" in the infinitely interesting internet. He sees that I’m not the only one who will benefit from better quality time together! So he’s putting aside the computer at the table, and making an effort to reach out to me and pay more attention when he’s not at work…just as I had hoped.