Last week I was working through a novel where a young woman loses her cell phone and in total desperation (How could she live without her phone? How would she ever communicate with anyone ever again?!) commandeers the phone of a total stranger, effectively forcing him to share with her. At first, the thought of sharing a phone felt like such an invasion of privacy she could hardly stand it. Even the person she was going to marry, someone with whom she was ready to share a life, she would never, ever let have her phone. About halfway through she made a comment about the experience, which really struck me: “I didn’t expect it to feel so intimate."
About halfway through I became frustrated with the book because this poor girl was stuck in all of her relationships because the cell phone (and the person using it) stood in the way of real communication and intimacy. When your whole life is your cell phone, it’s hard to make a life with anyone else. When you’re limited to 140 characters or less, there is little depth to anything you say or read. And when you cannot fathom letting another person have access to your phone, how can you develop any real trust?
This story really hit my heart because, for my generation, the benefits of new media and communication are tempered by shallow communication, false intimacy and the temptation to be other than who you really are. It was both frustrating and heartbreaking that the author thought it was plausible not only that this particular character would be unwilling to share her phone with her spouse, but also that she wouldn’t know anyone who shared their phone with their spouse.
I was lamenting this fact, and the sadness I felt for real women who share this character’s struggle, to my husband. It is a real poverty, and it got us thinking and talking about how many young couples might experience this poverty.
When we were preparing for marriage, a significant portion of our pre-Cana program was dedicated to communication – how to effectively communicate, to work through misunderstandings and fight fairly, talk through finances and pray as a couple. But never - in the conference or reading material or one-on-one with the priest - did anyone mention the effect that modern communication can have on a marriage.
My grandparents’ generation communicated in thoughtful, handwritten, carefully crafted letters. My parents’ generation spent time on the phone, enjoying the richness of each other’s voices telling stories about the day. My generation has…texts? the magic of photo filters on Instagram? man-crush-Monday? Of course, there are many advantages to modern communication, but it can (and often does) get in the way of actual growth in intimacy.
For any relationship, but especially marriage, it’s important to develop habits - and a few hard-and-fast rules - that help you use communication for the good of your relationship, and not sacrifice the good in your relationship to modern communication.
Here are a few of our own:
There are no secrets between us, including passwords. We both have access to each other’s email and social media accounts, computers and cell phones. We do this both as a gift to each other and also as a help to ourselves to keep us free from the temptation to hide things or fall into the habit of dividing up what’s “yours” and “mine.” All communication in our home, including access to it, is “ours.”
When I put on that white dress and stood on the altar, I promised that I would love him and honor him all the days of my life. One way that is lived out in our marriage is through a mutual promise of respect, even when we feel the other doesn’t deserve it. It can be really easy to complain about your spouse – especially under the guise of “venting” – to others through social media, text or email, but those vows leave no room for spouse bashing.
There are parts of our life that I don’t mind sharing online with family and friends, but other parts I’d prefer to keep private. I appreciate that Josh feels the same way. We have a pretty good system of checking in with each other when we second-guess what we’re posting – blog posts, photos, anecdotes, responses to articles or questions. What that looks like from couple-to-couple will vary, but it’s important to at least talk about it because once something is out there on the interwebs…you can’t take it back.
Because we’re so busy and modern communication is so fast and easy, it can become the case that most of your conversation in a day is non-verbal and not in person. I know there have been crazy days when we’ve said more to each other in emails than we have face-to-face. But this isn’t ideal, and it can’t it be the norm. It’s hard to foster intimacy on a screen. Sending a love note via text is good, but it’s better to pick up the phone and hear the other’s voice. And it’s best to sit down with each other each day to talk and listen with undivided attention.
Different seasons of life present different challenges, so it’s important to make good habits and keep communicating about communication.
What suggestions or good habits would you share with young couples?
Copyright 2015 Megan Swaim.
"Instagram and other Social Media Apps", Jason Howie, 9/1/12, Flickr, Creative Commons, cropped.
About the Author
Megan Swaim is an Indiana girl on an east coast adventure. A former high school youth minister, she now gets to minister full-time to her three young daughters and her husband Josh. Megan spends her days homeschooling at the kitchen table, drinking iced coffee, and exploring coastal Virginia.