Eric Eidens, LMHC, CSAT-C
Recently I saw a photo project by photographer Eric Pickersgill entitled Removed. In it he took pictures of couples, family members, and friends, then electronically removed the technological devices they were using in the picture. What was left was something that I have had to discuss with many of the couples I see in my office, just how much technology impacts our relationships. Most of us don’t realize just how prevalent this issue is. We joke about it, news stories are often shown to us about the “modern family drifting apart,” but we continue to utilize these technologies in problematic ways. These technologies are useful, quick, and often provide us with all the information we need on a daily basis. However, the one thing we all need that technology doesn’t provide is connection. All human beings, or almost all of them, desire and strive for connection and bonding with one another. There is a reason that so many of us live in cities while very few of us live alone out in the wilderness. But this connection goes beyond just survival in numbers. In fact, some evolutionary anthropologists have proposed that the reason we bond emotionally is to improve survival chances. But how does that bond get built?
"The one thing we all need that technology does not provide is connection"
In Emotion Focused Therapy, a form of therapy often used with couples and based around the theories of attachment, a core concept is partners being Available, Responsive, and Engaged (or the easy to remember acronym A.R.E.). However, when you think about it, this doesn’t only apply to partners. In fact, this is how babies bond with their mother. It is how a little one learns that dad is a safe place to go to when feeling scared or hurt. Many attachment proponents will exclaim that ‘in the first year of a child’s life you cannot be too attentive.’ This is the basis for establishing a healthy bond with a child, and helps the child learn how to have healthy bonds with others. As the child grows, most parents do not continue to attend to everything the child asks for or demands. However, the attention given to the child, especially in that first year, communicates to them that they are valuable and that their needs are valid. So why would we want to communicate anything less to our partners?
The idea is that if we are Available and accessible by our partners, they will take comfort in knowing that we will be there when they call during moments of need (literally or figuratively). When we are Responsive, not only are we present, but we can RESPOND to our partners. John Gottman, noted relationship expert, refers to this dynamic as ‘bids for attention’ which fosters a deeper connection between partners. Now being Available and Responsive seem pretty straight forward, but as I discuss this with many of my couples I come to find that the most important and also the most challenging part of this tenant is the Engaged portion. Anyone can and probably has nodded along with their partner as they go on about their day murmuring ‘uh-huhs’ and ‘yeses’ but to be Engaged is to ask follow up questions, share our own experiences of similar situations and essentially communicate that our partner is being HEARD. For instance, many people have probably heard while in conflicts with their partners “I don’t want you to fix the problem, I just want you to listen!” That’s what being Engaged is all about. It communicates to our partner that we value and care for them. More importantly, being Engaged helps to establish a caring and loving bond.
Think about the last time you tried to engage with someone but they were too busy looking at a screen. Or take a look at the pictures portrayed in the photo project Removed or even this wonderful YouTube video entitled ‘Look Up’ and think about the impact that not being Available, Responsive, and Engaged can have on you and those around you. See what you can do to try to put the screen down and become more intentional in relationships in your daily life.