Since its inception in 2004, Facebook has become the quintessential time-waster of millions of users worldwide. Most of us feel a bit anxious if we go more than a few hours without checking in to see what our friends are up to, read and respond to any new messages, or click on our notifications. Admit it, your heart skips a beat when that tiny red number shows up at the top right corner of your screen letting you know that someone’s reached out to you, tagged you, or liked your status update. It validates us as human beings to be noticed and Facebook specializes in making us feel connected to the outside world.

But what about the world inside our homes? Those strangers who live in our houses and call us “father”, “mother”, “wife”, or “husband”? How disconnected have we become from them in our quest to network with any- and everyone in the virtual realm? Besides Facebook, there are countless other social media platforms we can spend (waste) our time on. Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, Snapchat, YouTube, Digg, Reddit, Pinterest, and Yelp…the list goes on and on with new platforms popping up nearly every day. And those are beside everything else one can do online like web surfing, gaming, visiting chat rooms and forums, shopping, etc. It’s a wonder we get anything accomplished these days with all these enticing distractions at our fingertips! And the portability of smart phones, tablets, laptops, readers, and myriad other devices paired with free Wi-Fi everywhere we go? We’ve all sadly become narcissistic, self-centered screen zombies.

Recently a new term was coined by researchers at Baylor University. The word is “Pphubbing”, (or Partner Phone Snubbing). According to the study, pphubbing “can be best understood as the extent to which an individual uses or is distracted by his/her cell phone while in the company of his/her relationship partner.” In the first part of the study, a list of snubbing behaviors was developed. In the second part, the list was used to measure the pervasiveness of “pphubbing” in romantic relationships and how much it effects relationship satisfaction. The results of the study were sad, if not surprising. Twenty-two percent of the respondents stated that pphubbing caused relationship issues, while a mere 32% were actually satisfied with their relationship in general.

So, why have we become so obsessed with the virtual world? No one can deny that social media has its upsides. Through it, we can reconnect with old friends, keep an eye on our spouses’ interactions with others, spread information/share research, keep track of our kids’ online activities and whereabouts, document the events of our lives, network, keep up with current events, and even post pictures of our lunch!

But, the downsides can be devastating. Sometimes reconnecting with a former lover can reignite old passion and tear a marriage apart. And, some people use social media to air their dirty laundry, or shame and ridicule their spouse online. Just as bad is that people use these platforms to fill some void inside of them and commit the carnal sin of ignoring their spouse and loved ones. If this is the case, therapy should be considered before marital counseling is required!

Like anything in life, it all comes down to balance. Social media can be fine if you ensure your spouse isn’t feeling neglected or unfulfilled in your relationship. If you spend more time looking at photos of your kids on Instagram than at their beautiful selves sitting next to you on the couch, you may need to recalibrate your priorities.

Speaking of our collective kids…how does social media affect them? Are we allowing them to rot in their rooms, their eyes glued to a screen for hours at a time? What will their marriages look like if they already think living in the virtual world is normal? Attention levels are declining. Our kids are getting bored and wanting to “click” on to the next thing in every aspect of their lives. Admittedly, we had video games when we were kids, but our parents sent us outside on the regular. How can we make our children stop doing something that we’re guilty of ourselves? Rather than risk being labeled hypocrites, we turn a blind eye to them forming the same social media addictions we have ourselves and somehow it justifies our habits in our own eyes.

So, what would it take for us to finally turn the devices off? Is it that the real world is just so horrible that we’re hesitant to play out our actual lives in it rather than in the fake life we’ve created in the virtual world? We’re pinning mason jar crafts on our boards while the world inside and outside of our homes crumble around us. Life is passing us by while we’re busy documenting it. The relationships that matter are atrophying. We’re becoming voyeurs instead of doers. And all this in the name of winning our peers’ approval?

The truth is we spend hours curating the lives we create on social media. The lives we wish we had. We only present the highlight reel to our friends on all the various social media platforms. It’s a form of escapism…snapshots of single moments in our lives welcoming people to judge us without knowing the full story of our daily hardships and struggles. Putting our best foot forward and hoping everyone covets the life we have. But, our spouses know our true selves and love us anyway. For that, we should give them all our time and full attention.

As cliché as it sounds, the real world is actually a beautiful place. Turn off your devices. Turn off the fake outside world. Turn off the news with all its fearmongering and divisiveness. Hop in the car and go to the mountains or the beach with your spouse and reconnect. Remember why you fell in love in the first place and look into each other’s eyes instead of into the abyss of another two-dimensional screen. And wherever you end up going together, resist the temptation to “check in”.

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