The importance of logging off our devices for maintaining a healthy relationship.

“Often, our perception of ‘the problem’ is usually the problem itself.” – Lori Whatley

STORY: Juliette Cheatham
PHOTO: Sara Hanna

In her recently published book, Effects of Texting on Marital Relationships, clinical psychologist Lori Whatley, who resides and practices in Buckhead, offers research-backed commentary about how the digital age of texting has created a new generation of issues that work against establishing quality relationships. The longtime marriage and family therapist says that disconnecting from distractions has become harder than ever thanks to social media, rendering it a challenge to simply connect with the person sitting directly across the table.

“A lack of effective communication tends to plague the most couples,” Whatley says of her patients, and the current era when our heads are so often hidden behind our screens only exacerbates the problem. On the eve of Valentine’s Day, we chatted with Whatley about the importance of maintaining good communication with our significant others not just on February 14, but throughout the year.

Define what healthy and unhealthy relationships look and sound like.

A healthy relationship involves mutual respect. The ability to forgive and not hold things over our spouses’ heads every time we have an argument is essential. Unhealthy relationships are full of distrust, disrespect, belittling and betrayal. Emotional or physical volatility and a lack of communication are always red flags. Remember to ask your partner when there is a concern, because when we start creating stories in our minds, we can create problems that aren’t even there.

What’s the biggest challenge modern relationships face today in our new world of social media and technology?

Communication, or lack thereof. Trying to compete for attention with our spouse’s phone leads us feeling dismissed and devalued. Although in some cases we can connect better via smartphone, it gets problematic when ambiguous text messages are sent that cause our partners to make assumptions and feel anxious. Phones are a new challenge as far as relationships go, and because human connection is one of our basic needs, I try to help my patients set electronic device boundaries. For example, when a couple sits down at dinner, maybe they agree not to bring their phones along.

What is the best piece of advice you can give couples about how to handle conflict resolution and work through issues with their partners?

Often, our perception of “the problem” is usually the problem itself. When we learn to lean into each other and listen, then we are going to have a better connection and understanding of each other’s needs. If people find themselves feeling unhappy or unfulfilled in their current relationships, what should they do? Therapy. It’s always nice to have someone who is not emotionally involved to help you on your journey. It’s important to go into your relationship feeling whole instead of expecting your partner to make you whole. That kind of pressure on your partner can be detrimental.

LORI WHATLEY
loriwhatley.com