After more than 12 hours at the office, Fred Karlinsky has arrived home to share the details of his day with his wife, Autumn. But just as she sets the roasted chicken on the dinner table, Fred’s BlackBerry pings, announcing the arrival of a new e-mail. A quick glance down and Fred’s back in work mode, shooting off a response.
“Remember,” Autumn pipes up: “Your BlackBerry is NOT invited to dinner.” By now, Autumn is realistic enough to know it may take a second reminder -- and possibly even a third nudge a few hours later when she and her husband finally have some alone time.
“Fred says he can’t avoid working evenings, sometimes even in the middle of the night – as head of Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate’s insurance regulatory practice, he communicates with clients and lawyers in time zones around the world. “I’m on 24/7. I know my wife gets annoyed, but I owe it to clients to respond when they need an answer.”
Marriage in today’s 24/7 world is challenging, particularly when technology has caused more of us to straddle the line between hard worker and workaholic. Marriage therapists report an increasing number of complaints about a spouse, male or female, whose body may be right there but whose mind is off in cyberspace.
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Some say the best way to get their spouse’s attention is to send a text — from the next room. Others say the iPhone glare has replaced candlelight as the backdrop for bedroom romance.Rhonda Ricardo, author of Cherries Over Quicksand, which offers insight on what sinks relationships, said more spouses today feel lonely. One spouse may view time together in the car or waiting for a table in a restaurant as down time, an opportunity to clear e-mail. The partner views it as time they could have been talking and connecting. “One woman told me every time her husband picked up his phone when he was with her it was like a stab in the heart.”
Joel Block, a relationship expert with Candobetter.com, worries intimacy is being lost. “When you get married, you are volunteering for something that has a one-in-four chance of surviving,” Block says. “If want to stay together and be connected, you have to make time for intimacy and set boundaries.”
Clearly, romance in the digital age takes a different approach. Block advises couples to work on being intimate in short blocks of time.
“If you are putting on your socks in the morning, say something about the day ahead, but speak from the heart about your worries or hopes,” he says.
“Get more efficient at being intimate.”
Hollis Freimark has her own thoughts on what makes a marriage work. Hollis has been married for 32 years to Jeffrey Freimark, who by his own description is a longtime workaholic. He currently is CEO of one of South Florida’s largest healthcare organizations, Miami Jewish Health Systems. Hollis has relocated with Jeffrey 10 times for his career, supported him at hundreds of business events and become used to going to bed while he’s still toiling away on his computer. This December, while on vacation with the family in South Africa, Jeffrey ducked behind a bush to take a work call while waiting for a safari to begin.
But Hollis says she doesn’t mind his work addiction. “I don’t even notice anymore, I’m so used to it,” she says. “I think what’s worked is that I’m my own person. I do things by myself if necessary or I get involved in what he’s doing. If I need his full attention, I tell him and he listens.”
Autumn Karlinsky, a mother of two young children, says she, too, supports her husband’s efforts to stay at the top of his game. “It has afforded me the ability not to have to work right now.” The tradeoff, she says, is that he brings work home. When she wants one-on-one time with him, she schedules it. And, she embraces his BlackBerry addiction to communicate with him. “We send e-mail back and forth all day.”
Block suggests that as the work-addicted spouse, treat your partner like your boss, turn away from your screen and make eye contact. To communicate your needs as the spouse who wants attention, he says, don’t nag. “Make a plan to spend time together. That’s much better than the blame message.”
The dynamics can be doubly difficult in a relationship where both professional spouses carry mobile devices that keep them on call, even when they aren’t. Jochen Reiser and Melissa J. Tracy are both doctors and on the faculty at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Like the Karlinskys, Tracy says she and her husband use their mobile devices to make dates, such as going for a run together, grabbing coffee or having lunch in each other’s offices.But they set clear rules at home, and reinforce them. At dinner, no phones allowed. And after the kids are in bed, communicate with each other first, then retreat to answer e-mail. “We can get completely lost in work and forget our surroundings unless we make a conscious effort to talk to each other.’’
Block says the bottom line in the digital age: You can’t expect a good marriage if you don’t focus on your relationship long enough to get past the small talk. “You need more substance, more intimacy if you want to stay together.”