Why Technology Is Damaging Our Relationships

19/02/2016 16:25 GMT | Updated 18/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Technology: a silicon valley of opportunity and innovation. It seems to make our lives so much simpler - we can access almost anything instantaneously, in any language, and at the touch of a button. But does its progression bring with it destructive qualities as well? Technology has instilled in us behavioural traits that are harming our age-old ability to create social bonds and maintain positive relationships. We are becoming social robots rather than beings.

Don't get me wrong, I don't condemn technology and I appreciate the incredible things it has enabled us to achieve - nor do I claim to be a psychologist of any sort. I've simply been struck by how much our relationships are dictated by the devices that remain glued to our hands.

When something becomes much easier to do, our expectations rise. How many times have you become unnecessarily angry when you lose Wi-Fi connection or a video takes a few minutes to buffer? You anticipate the latest technology will do exactly what it says on the tin: super-fast broadband has to live up to its name, right? What I'm trying to say is that these electronic expectations actually seem to have an emotional impact on us. It can make us angry, frustrated and irrational. We are no longer willing to wait. In a relationship, this can be damaging.

Back in our Grandparents' days you couldn't text or WhatsApp; they wrote letters and waited for a week for a reply. There seems to be something so unappreciated about patience. The problem is that we can now instantly react to a message. If we're in an argument or something has been misjudged - that's where the fog starts looming. Now, it's pretty commonplace to say something in the heat of the moment, which you later regret (after you've had time to think). We say things we don't mean when we're fired up, and this is heightened when it comes to love- an emotion fuelled by intensity and extremes. Someone once told me to "be careful what you say in the midst of an argument, because your head may be angry but your heart still cares". It is so "easy" to communicate with people now, that we can furiously type away with our fingers (so accustomed to the location of each letter on the keypad) without conscious thought. The danger lies in the fact that what we say in these moments can cause serious harm. People often say sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Who really believes that to be true? Words can leave scars, and these gradually build up and make a mountain out of a few small molehills.

This may well be an unrelated correlation but, if you look at how long our Grandparents' generation remained in life-long relationships in comparison to ours, there is a significant difference. Divorce rates are higher than they have ever been and the number of relationships we experience in our lifetime is notably greater. Back then you may have been sad, happy or confused about a situation, but by the time you were actually able to communicate with your other half, your emotional reaction had subsided and your rational thought process taken its place. They say time is the greatest healer and I believe that with patience comes a great deal of understanding. In hindsight, I'm sure that anyone reading this can think of an occasion where this has happened to them. In the aftermath of a relationship breakdown we often dwell on what we could have done differently, and a little patience in certain situations is usually high up on the list.

Yet modern technology doesn't only make the outcome worse, it can often be the source of an issue in the first place. A message on a screen can be easily misinterpreted: you cannot read someone's facial expression or body language so sarcasm, humour and empathy are hard to detect. Biologically, we understand one another and build relationships through both verbal and physical signals. Tone of voice, eye contact and body language can make one sentence have a plethora of different meanings. We've all been there - sent a message, that when we read it back seems a little harsher than intended... but before we can explain our innocent mistake, oh no - it's too late. It's been misinterpreted.

Sometimes this kind of thing can make us more defensive and quicker to react in a hostile manner. When you're hiding behind a screen it's a lot easier to express judgement than face to face, without fear of the consequences. Is this not just refuelling a never-ending cycle of impatience? There's that dreaded online/ offline status on WhatsApp staring you blank in the face. I know they've read it but they've gone off line?! What?! This sense of frustration makes us anxious, irritable, and say things we regret out of haste.

I think the most poignant thing I've discovered in discussion with others, is how much we are consciously unaware of the extent to which technology dictates our behaviour and emotions. As technology is a phenomenon that is entirely man-made, it begs the question: is something we are seemingly in control of, subliminally controlling us?