Technology and relationships

Technology is changing how we relate to one another. It's true at work, in life, and in love. Every aspect of relationships is being impacted by our near-constant attention to our phones and tablets.

Dating. The taboo around online dating has largely evaporated. If you've tried online dating, you're not alone: 38% of single adults looking for a partner say they've done it. While there is still concern that some of the largest sites like Match.com and OKCupid benefit from fake profiles and fail to protect their users' safety and privacy, good experiences from these sites are far more common than bad ones. A majority of internet users now say that online dating is a good way to meet people.

Relating. Once you're in a relationship, of course, the use of technology doesn't stop. In a recent survey, almost a quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds in serious relationships said they resolved an argument online or via text messaging when they were having difficulty resolving it in person. This is a significant generational shift, as older couples were much less likely to use technology to work out differences. In the same study, 25% of adults in relationships (who text at all) had texted their partner while they both were at home. Interestingly, a separate study showed that in straight couples that do a lot of texting, women feel more stability but men are less happy. Increasingly, couples are sharing email addresses and online calendars.

Marrying. About a third of marrying couples now say they met online. (Take that with a grain of salt: The study was funded by eHarmony.) Of course, many of the largest online dating sites like to promote how many of their matches ultimately lead to marriage, with Match.com and eHarmony routinely putting out competing studies.

Not all the news here is good, of course. Among cell-phone-owning 18- to 29-year-olds in relationships, 42% say their partner has been distracted by their phone even when they were together. Of that same group, 18% say they have had a fight specifically about the amount of time one partner spends online. And divorce lawyers are reporting that social networking sites like Facebook are increasingly involved in divorce cases, as they can help start affairs.

If your relationship is struggling because of the interference of technology, therapy can help. For many couples, this is actually a very quick process, as therapy can help develop strategies for keeping technology use contained to appropriate times. When the internet has been involved in cheating, therapy can take longer, but as with any kind of cheating, couples can recover from it. And as with any kind of technology, we're not going backward to a less-technological age, so the best first step that couples often can take is to draw clear boundaries around their time together -- without phones.

- Ben Caldwell, PsyD is a Los Angeles-based marriage and family therapist specializing in couple and relationship issues.