It is hard to imagine that we have already come full circle in our relationship to technology. The relentless drive for more access, smaller devices and ever increasing speed is hitting a wall for many of us. Yet, it isn’t so surprising that the wonder has worn thin when you consider the sheer number of hours that Americans spend in front of a screen. Between 2005 and 2009, our time spent in front of a screen doubled to include at least 8.5 hours per day. Television viewing, likewise, has also steadily increased Nicolas Carr, in his revelatory best-seller; “The Shallows” has documented how these technological trends are shaping not only our days, but the very wiring of our minds.
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Our time is our life. How we spend the hours of our days is the truest measure of what we create, what we value and how we invest our life energy. This is why the recent statistics regarding the social takeover of Internet gaming and social media should give us pause for wonder and concern. Facebook, the leader in social media reportedly consumes over 8 Billion minutes of time for its collected membership every single day. It is hard to imagine what that amount of time represents, so I recalculated it in terms of years- each and every day we give Facebook equates to more than 15,000 years of our collective human attention. Gaming statistics are equally disturbing, Angry Birds, one of the most popular web games of all time has been downloaded 300 million times and is expected to hit one billion downloads. Every hour of every day, we collectively give this game 200 million minutes, or 16 years of our attention. While individually these statistics break down to 20 to 60 minutes, the equation for each of us is more complex than the math. We look to our Internet applications to fill us, to calm us, to entertain us, to connect us in a virtual world, but they somehow also leave us increasingly lonely.
My teenage daughter has removed herself from Facebook. Her cold-turkey drop of a technology that had dominated many of her free hours caught my attention. “I noticed how anxious it makes me,” she replied simply when I asked why. “I just want to see what its like; to see if I miss it.” There was surprisingly little withdrawal she said enthusiastically, back to re-reading her favorite books. “I feel so much better not doing it. I don’t miss it at all.”
I am convinced that the most significant and meaningful change we can make within all of our relationships begins with our foundational ability to relate to our selves. This teaching is ancient and lies at the heart of every spiritual discipline. The Buddha summed it up saying: “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” Not only is our capacity for self-love the most challenging healing for most of us to master, but our inattention to this critical inner struggle is often the silent and invisible root of what goes wrong in our other personal and intimate relationships.
The problem with many relationships is that we don’t trust our own choices. For many couples this lack of trust starts early in the relationship, when we first encounter the difficulties of the relationship or, more challenging still, the foibles of our chosen partner. We question whether we have made a mistake in choosing our partner, and often this question comes in the form of pulling ourselves part way out of the relationship. Look around and notice how many relationships you are in or that you are witness to which are qualified by one or sometimes both partners having one or sometimes both feet out the door.
“There are times when the actual experience of leaving something makes you wish desperately that you could stay, and then there are times when the leaving reminds you a hundred times over why exactly you had to leave in the first place.” -Shauna Niequist
Leaving is bittersweet. Knowing when to leave is not always a simple equation. Even the departing itself is rarely an experience of simple relief; generally, it is weighted by what is lost, even if the loss is only lives in our imaginings of what was possible. Often when we leave, we lose not only our hopes for the relationship that has ended, but more deeply, for our concept of a future that defined us. I grew up amidst a long series of leaving and being left. I imagine that this has a lot to do with why I am now usually the last one to leave, hanging onto any vestige of hope that things can turn around. Being left so often as a child is qualitatively different than choosing to leave, and creates odd associations to most endings. Your history of relationship endings is the foundation of your tendency toward leaving or staying.
Working as I have for decades on learning how to sustain and nourish lasting relationships has brought me continuously back to the same question of how to learn to stay both in my own relationships as well as in many others that I have counseled. Usually the question is a reflection of the viability of the relationship itself. We look at our partner and ask if they can change or whether the relationship will improve. Generally the question is provoked when we are in the midst of painful times. We don’t wonder about staying when things are easy and predictable. It is when things fall apart that we doubt whether the work that our relationship or other life commitments is demanding is worth it.
“I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out.” -Elizabeth Barrett Browning
We are not a happy sexual bunch. According to a recent CNN poll nearly 40 million Americans are stuck in a sexual rut, and more than 52% of us are dissatisfied with our love lives. A neglected unhealthy sex life makes relationships more vulnerable to anger and resentment and is often cited as the primary motivation for infidelity. Unfortunately, you can’t really cure an unhealthy sexual life without curing the aspects of the relationship that lead you to avoiding intimacy. I know from the thousands of people I have spoken to over the years, that malfunctioning sex lives is the result of malfunctioning relating and almost never the other way around.
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” -Helen Keller
When we end our relationships badly, we get stuck in a continuous rebound relationship cycle. Tragically, the most common and destructive bad endings that plague millions of relationships is when we use infidelity as an exit strategy. Some sex therapists would argue that most affairs, especially when they occur in succession are nothing more than the continuous cycle of ineffective rebounding that takes over one’s relationship history. Certainly repeat marriage statistics bear this out. As dismal as our 50% fail rate is on first marriage, success rates for second marriage drops to 25% and the third relationships only have a success rate of 10%. Failure rates in successive relationships out of marriage are no better. When we don’t authentically and definitively end our relationships, we carry what remains unresolved into everything that follows.
“A final comfort that is small, but not cold: The heart is the only broken instrument that works. “ ~T.E. Kalem
I wonder what is going through the mind of the man or woman as they fill out their Ashley Madison profile. What emotions dominate as one plans to cheat on one’s partner and betrays promises made? The spike in signups after holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day is probably a good indicator. It isn’t just the promise of some great sex that gets prospective customers to hit the payment button. In fact many say it is companionship, appreciation and recognition that are the greater fuel towards their path to indiscretion.