I see couples in my Couples Expert office practice who have lost touch, become disconnected, isolated and withdrawn from each other. There can be so many reasons why this occurs; relationship injuries take many forms.
One of the issues that I’ve seen more frequently in recent years has to do with social media; specifically social media addiction. The type of therapy I do which is emotionally focused therapy has a contraindication for drug and alcohol abuse, and we’re walking a fine line when it comes to helping couples where social media addiction is a problem. I don’t turn these cases away because the underlying problems are the same as for any couple in trouble. Lack of emotional connection and not feeling important in the relationship. I’m going to share one such case study with you. The names have been changed to protect confidentiality.
My process when a new couple comes in to do a relationship assessment to establish a therapeutic relationship between myself and the clients. This entails seeing each partner individually and together. Dave and Cindy came to my office with a laundry list of complaints about their combined session, and when I saw Dave individually I immediately knew that this was going to be the biggest challenge they would face in trying to repair and heal his marriage.
Dave works full-time in a mail order fulfillment warehouse. He’s on his own a great deal of time and works quite a bit of overtime. Like most of us, Dave has a smartphone. He began to use his phone during breaks at work to search for things that interested him. Sex was one of the things he was interested in, being away from Cindy so much, he was feeling frustrated and undersexed. It wasn’t long before he was spending all of his time watching and listening to sex sites on his phone while working, on his breaks and even after he returned home. While he and Cindy were growing apart, he was becoming more isolated and more withdrawn from her. They could be sitting in the same room, or Cindy might be in another room of the house, Dave would be on his phone. He got deeper and deeper down this rabbit hole, to where he thought of little else. His personality became more like an addict than a casual observer. This was all he thought about and all he wanted to do. It may surprise you that while he had a perfectly attractive and sexually interesting woman to engage with, he shunned her, preferring instead to watch sex acts and live camera events where he could comment or interact with the participants online. This also brought up a question whether Dave’s behavior suggested a possible sex addiction and that is something that has to be assessed in addition to the social media issues.
Cindy’s individual session turned out to be just as worrisome. Not only did she know all about Dave’s phone addiction, but she had her own social media addiction to Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. She felt frustrated on so many levels but didn’t seem to see that her addiction was just as bad (or worse) than Dave’s and she didn’t take any responsibility for her part in the problems that they were having.
Cindy works part-time as a buyer for a fashion boutique and spent a great deal of time online for her work doing research and making deals. Her Instagram habit started when she would post photos of designs she was considering and ask her followers for their feedback. Cindy, being a creative and artistic type of person began to spend more time on Pinterest looking at ideas for home decorating and on Facebook with her company’s business page and marketing their designs. She created her own Facebook page as well. With Dave gone for long hours, this was how she filled the time and made connections with ex-co-workers and people she knew from college. When Dave’s interest in his phone surpassed his interest in her, she turned more and more to social media to talk with people, including men, posting photos of herself on Instagram and gaining validation and friendship from others.Her emotional connections to people on Facebook began to be even more important to her as her lack of connection to her husband became more evident.
Why do I say Cindy’s issues are worse than Dave’s? The difference is that while Dave is spending too much time online and avoiding connecting with his wife, Cindy is making those connections with other people.What she has done is emotionally invested herself in these relationships with others.From what I see, Dave’s not doing that. He’s closed off his emotions and isolated himself. Do they both share equal responsibility for their actions? Absolutely!
The fact that both partners came to counseling shows that they know there’s a problem and they’re willing to try to fix it. My job is to get them both to see that they each have work to do to get their relationship back where they want it to be. They’ll both have to commit to doing the work and making each other the most important thing in their world.
This is a tough challenge and both partners really have to want to fix it. Cindy is fed up and ready to walk away. For her, counseling is the last ditch effort to fix things before giving up on the marriage. For Dave, he’s beginning to realize that this is a big deal, and he’s in a lot deeper than he thought. He seems willing to do the work. I can’t give you the outcome yet because we’re still in the process of counseling; I have hope that Dave and Cindy will make it past this and succeed.
This is a cautionary tale for all couples to bear in mind. There is a ton of entertainment available at our fingertips right now via social media. It can be a harmless distraction, or it can be a huge damaging factor in your love relationship. You have to each (individually and together) be aware of the potential traps and slippery slopes that are out there in the ether. You should never make anything more important in your life than your partner, home, and family. Anything that might jeopardize that should be avoided at all cost. Your relationship depends on it.
For more on this topic: Listen to The Couples Expert Podcast, “Is social media destroying my marriage?”