In between drafting real estate contracts or meeting with clients, attorney Barry Lapides zips off a romantic text to his wife of eight years that reads: "I'm so lucky to have you in my life."
In the digital age, the concept of romance has evolved to adapt to our complicated work and home lives. While some people question whether technology gets in the way of real romance, Lapides says the opposite is true. "A text takes five seconds to send and it allows us to connect as a couple throughout the day."
"Technology and romance are two words that you don't think go together, but they do if you know how to use technology properly," say relationship coach Maya Ezratti. "It's not a replacement for face to face, but it can be an enhancement."
A late night at the office can be less stressful with a quick text explaining the holdup and conveying anticipation about an eventual return home. Separation for business travel doesn't seem as awful when FaceTime brings a spouse right into a hotel room. Even after more than two decades of marriage, I relish a spontaneous "I luv u" text from my husband on a day he's tied up in meetings.
When people are spending more time with co-workers than their partners, technology offers an opportunity to build more intimate relationships and ignite passion. "It gives busy people a way to quickly let their partner know they are thinking about them," says Liz Becker, a life coach and author of the soon to be released book, "Bringing Your Sexy Back." "In relationships, that's important."
Since the early days of the Internet, people have used technology for online dating and seeking new relationships. Over time, the concept of electronic romance has evolved to include deepening committed relationships. Katherine M. Hertlein and Katrina Ancheta, researchers at the University of Nevada who studied technology and relationships, found multiple benefits. In addition to enriched communication throughout the workday, participants likened sending a text to writing a love note. One respondent explained: "It is easier to be intimate on texts because they are not heard by everyone around you." Researchers found couples also are using text messages to spice up their relationship, smooth things over after an argument and show emotional support for their partners.
In 2014 researchers at Brigham Young University studied 276 young adults in committed relationships and found that 82 percent traded text messages with their partner multiple times a day and that saying something sweet in a text works universally for men and women. They also found that sending a loving text was even more strongly related to relationship satisfaction than receiving one.
Beyond text messages, busy American workers are sending their romantic partners videos, Snapchats, Facebook messages, photos and even emoji symbols to digitally express their love. On a day when she had back-to-back clients, hairdresser Julie Harris texted her boyfriend a heart emoji, "just to let him know I was thinking about him."
Married more than a decade, Jamie Thomas says digital tools, including social networking, are enhancing his relationship. For his recent anniversary, Thomas proclaimed his love for his wife on Facebook, a public gesture he says she appreciated. "It got the same reaction as sending flowers to her at work." In new couples, online romantic gestures often are used to show commitment, a practice commonly known as making the relationship "Facebook official."
To use technology constructively, experts say you need to know your partner well enough to know how he or she will respond to your method of communication. Katherine Hertlein, author of "The Couple and Family Technology Framework," says, "For some people what is an advantage of technology will be a disadvantage for others. One partner might feel text is the only way to go, and the other might think it's impersonal."
Rachel Lapides gets delighted when her husband sends her a sweet, uplifting text during the workday. "It makes me feel special." In return she sends him funny pictures of their younger selves or shares cute moments of her day. But as a marriage/family therapist she advises her clients to use caution with electronic communication. "I tell them to avoid using it to argue or sort out a disagreement. "Some things get misconstrued when you text because you don't know the tone or the intention. I've never seen anything resolved by text."
Clearly, electronic communication has its drawbacks. Using only digital communication can become a problem – both in courtship and long-term relationships. So can using technology in a way that questions your partner's trust. However, online conversations can be a key ingredient in nurturing long distance relationships. A friend recently transferred to another city for a career opportunity. She Skypes daily with her boyfriend and says it's a big reason her relationship is going strong.
Then there's the sex component of technology use. From hectic work schedules to kids' demands, roadblocks to sex for couples can seem endless. Ezratti, the relationship consultant, says couples can work toward a mutually satisfying sex life by electronically building anticipation – sending flirty texts or photos of body parts captioned "I can't wait to kiss you there." She cautions: Don't go overboard: "No one wants 20 texts an hour." Most important, she says, don't forget to have a real relationship offline. "Being addicted to technology keeps people from actually interacting when they are together."
Research concludes that couples who use digital technologies to stay in touch creatively and well, but limit device use during personal time together, do benefit.
At end of the day, the outlet you use to communicate is less important than what you are communicating, Becker notes. "If what you are saying is accepted and received positively, that's going to build your relationship."
ABOUT THE WRITER
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at email@example.com. Read her columns and blog at http://worklifebalancingact.com/.
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