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These days it is common to go to a restaurant and realise that although many couples and families are out for dinner together, they are spending more time on their mobile devices instead. Often, you will see people peering intently at their gadgets, laughing and typing away - oblivious to their actual dinner companions.

All too often, this scenario plays itself out in our marriages. How many of us can relate to this - you and your husband are out on a romantic dinner date, but instead of talking, you’re both updating your Facebook statuses on your phones. Later that night, you both reach for your mobile phones or laptops. Forget talking, kissing and cuddling – checking your e-mail has become your new bedtime ritual. You’re supposed to be spending quality time together but, instead, you seem to be more connected to your gadgets than to each other.

This is a common problem with Singaporean couples. Of the 56 women Real Love Works polled, about 68 per cent admitted using their Blackberry, iPhone, iPad or laptop when with their spouses.

Digital Distractions

If you don’t think gadgets are preventing you and your spouse from spending quality time together, ask yourself this: How many times did you look through your phone the last time you spent precious couple time together?

Jessie and her husband Thomas, both 34, admit to being slaves to their mobile gadgets. Says Jessie, an insurance agent: “Before we became hooked on Facebook, we hardly checked our phones, unless it was to reply to a text message or return a call. Now, we’re both constantly on Facebook. When someone sends us a message or comments on our status, we get instant notifications, so our iPhones never stop beeping.”

Meera, 37, an architect, and Raj, 38, a banker, also confess to being lost without their phones, iPads and laptops. “It’s hard to break away from them because we use them for everything, from paying bills to communicating with relatives overseas, talking to clients and keeping up with the news. Also, Raj’s boss rings him at all hours. I do get upset when we’re having an important conversation and Raj has to answer his phone because his boss is calling. He can’t possibly ignore his boss’ calls, right?” complains Meera.

Focusing on the Real World

Maintaining a strong marriage is hard enough as it is, but when you throw in an obsession with gadgets, you’re only adding on to the challenge.

“This doesn’t mean we have to throw away all our gadgets,” says Leo Hee Khian, a counsellor and director at Wonderfully Made, a relationship counselling and sexuality education company. “However, we should be more aware of our vulnerability to the influence of these tech advances and systems.”

If you believe that the overuse of gadgets is causing a rift in your relationship, you have to work through it together, suggests Leo. Remember, you are supposed to be there for each other and to build your relationship together. Be supportive if he is the one with the problem, and if you’re the one who needs support, don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Ways to Balance Gadget Time and Couple Time

It would be unrealistic to try to create a life without gadgets, and in the right context, smart devices can help us to stay in touch with friends and family even when we don’t have the time to physically meet up. Learning to balance real and virtual interactions and to master our gadgets instead of becoming slaves to them is not too difficult if you can follow some of these strategies.

Set Specific Time-Outs

You could agree to some rules, like no e-mails after 8pm, no Internet on Saturdays and no checking the phone during meals.

Set a Time Limit

If you really have to use your gadgets when you’re supposed to be spending quality time with your spouse, agree to spend no more than five minutes on them.

Have Gadget-Free Outings

Plan a date with your spouse without the tech distractions, says Leo. You have to make the effort to break this dependence on your gadgets, so leave your phones at home. Sooner or later, you will get used to it.

Limit Work Calls After Work

You wouldn’t be checking your e-mail or voicemail or sending SMSes if your clients, colleagues and supervisors didn’t contact you in the first place, so tell them not to call or e-mail you after work unless it’s really urgent.

Gadget-free Days

Clarice Wong, 31, a fitness instructor, says gadgets were almost like a third party in her marriage – but not anymore. “Once, we went on a weekend retreat where gadgets were not allowed. We didn’t even have a TV in our room. It felt weird not using our laptops and phones for two days, but it was also liberating. We stayed up all night talking and cuddling without any interruptions. And, for the first time in our three-year marriage, we felt super close.

When we got home, we decided to have a gadget-free day every fortnight. So every other Sunday, when I don’t have to work, we switch off our phones from 9am to 9pm and stay away from our laptops and iPads. We don’t switch on our TV either. Instead, we spend time cooking, talking, and making plans for the future.

It’s been six months, and we believe our marriage is stronger because of it.”

Tags: Communication