Does media use really impact marital quality?
This question has been swirling around in the minds of many for more than a decade. According to attorneys, the use of social media impacts divorce cases now more than ever before. Counselors also say it is increasingly common for couples to argue about media use in a marriage counseling session.
You only have to look around to see how media use impacts marriages. Next time you eat out, watch as couples sit together at a table. Chances are, both of them will on their device instead of talking to each other.
Jeffery Dew and Sarah Tulane, colleagues at Utah State University, decided to examine the issue. They studied more than 1,300 randomly selected married couples. Then, they measured their use of television, video games and social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. The couples rated their marital quality in terms of happiness in different areas, how often they fought and how likely they thought they were to get divorced.
The findings showed that the more husbands used social media, the worse they both felt about their marriage - and both spouses reported more conflict. Women whose husbands spent more time on social media reported lower levels of marital happiness, and they both perceived higher levels of divorce likelihood.
It is interesting that the husband's use of social media appeared to impact marital quality more than the wife's. Dew and Tulane speculated that, since women use communication to build their relationships more than men do, they see it as just another tool to communicate and connect. However, men's use of social networking sites may violate social norms and expectations about their behavior, which could lead to marital issues.
How can you keep media use from harming your marital quality?
- Make time for face-to-face conversation. Focusing on your phone, television, Facebook, etc. takes away from truly focusing on each other. While media can be used to communicate with your spouse, there is no substitute for face-to-face conversation.
- Pay attention to how much time you spend playing video games individually. When spouses disagreed about how much time the other was spending gaming, marital quality decreased.
- Ask each other about how media use affects your relationship. You may need to take a break from media and invest that time elsewhere.
- Establish media-free zones. Too much of anything can be a bad thing. Decide together if certain times or places in your home (like the bedroom) are off-limits for media use. Be accountable to each other.
Sitting beside each other doesn't necessarily mean you are spending quality time together, especially if you both are in your own worlds utilizing media. Take steps to ensure that media doesn't distract you from the most important relationship in your life.