Losing a loved one to social media, and how we can win back the other person’s attention.

What I notice…
Navigating a relationship is one of the most emotionally challenging, physically draining, and spiritually depleting dynamics we as humans face in life. As if relationships were not challenging on their own, now we must compete with ‘another’ constantly in the room. An entity whom takes away our partners attention. Something that can grasps our partner’s attention at a moments notice. Something that our partners take with them where ever they go! It is as if they choose to communicate with another when we are in the same room. How is it that a living being can be ignored for an inanimate object? In many relationships today, social media can create isolation and distance, leaving one to feel alone or abandoned or unwanted.

Social media creates isolation
I think we can all agree that social media is designed to keep us connected with one another. Maybe during the early stages of connecting romantically, social media offers consistent connections, but something happens as couples spend more time together and distance from one another. It seems as if couples become more comfortable and complacent, resulting in little attempts at affection.

When individuals are in isolation, they are, in gestalt therapy, living in ill health to the self. Gestalt therapy authors Korb, Gorrell and De Riet (2002) illustrate ill health as not living up to one’s authenticity by not obtaining what one needs from one’s environment, therefore sacrificing a piece of authenticity for comfort:

“When the organism is functioning in a natural, spontaneous, dynamic way, it responds openly to internal and external events.”

When our partner moves into deeper isolation, for example when giving attention to social media rather than us, we begin to isolate too. In our isolation begins our negative self talk and our catastraphizing. Usually this comes with thoughts of “they’ll never love me” or “they are involved with someone else” or  “I wish I could receive that much attention.” In this catastraphizing starts the whirlwind of negative self talk, which is the prime ingredient for distancing.

Social media creates distance
In a relationship, social media can inevitably produce distance. Often, couples will get into a car on a trip or even a short ride to the store, where one will drive and the other will be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or begin texting their friend. This is optimal time to engage in dialog, but rarely does this happen. Then, the pervasive argument is “you never talk to me” or “why are you so distant?” How is it that this platform used to bring human beings together, creates the distance in the relationships we so desire? Quite possibly what happens is we become so comfortable in relationships that we often go numb to the dynamics of distancing that is being created. If we cannot turn to our loved one and simply say, “thank you for being present in my life,” then we have probably become comfortable and do not feel as if they need to hear this.

Social media affects parenting too
Unfortunately, a couple’s bliss is not the only relationship that suffers when social media is involved to a numbing degree. Joe Desprospero illustrates how we as a collective desire to create distance:

“Some of us let social media take over our lives, creating silent dinner tables and this absurd mission for every social gathering to only be as strong as the Instagram photo it yielded.”

Many articles today illustrate the necessity of parenting and how many of the dynamics we have grown up with have drastically changed. For example, a popular media outlet, The Asian Parent, illustrates how mom’s are affected by social media. They claim social media makes mom’s judgmental and depressed. The notion states, mom’s must feel the desire to ‘keep up with the Jones’s’ and promote their kids and family via social media. As moms (and don’t think dads are immune) promote their kids or grander on social media, what often goes ignored is the present moment. It goes ignored because when keeping up with the Jones’s, a parent might strive to look amazing, rather than be amazing.

Parenting does not escape the distancing dynamics of relationship. Many men I work with admit to distancing themselves from parenting for fear of doing it wrong or not knowing how to do it or even simply distancing so they are not like their father; inevitably distancing just as they did. In this distancing or distracting, we desire to be distracted from seminally minimal tasks: parenting.

So what now? 
Being present as a partner or a parent requires very similar amount of skills. The challenging part in being present is understanding what present means to us. For example, if I want my wife to pay attention to me, I need to learn how to state this. I need to develop the courage to say, “I feel ignored when I am trying to connect to you.” If I need attention from my wife, then it is up to me to find a way to connect. If this need arises, and I do not ask for connection, I then have unresolved business, and this is ripe territory for anxiety, animosity, depression, fear …

Relationships take courage, initiative, understanding, and awareness. If one does not have a good example of relationships, then how can one possibly navigate a relationship? To explore the damages of relationships or to even know how to navigate the successes of your current relationship takes great vulnerability. I can support you in understanding this vulnerability and the courage it takes to break the mold.

Jeremy R. Allen, M.A., Psychotherapist
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