By Annie Yorty, Crosswalk.com
Everything, from televisions to toasters, has a screen these days. They’re impossible to avoid. But even if it were possible, I daresay we wouldn’t want to give them up. But do you ever wonder if your marriage would be better if you could slow the incursion of screen time?
Common sense tells us that screens have increasingly invaded our homes, occupying a huge territory of our lives over the last decade. Statistics back up our intuition. I’ve read that the average number of screens in a two-person household runs from five to ten. That number includes televisions, computers, phones, tablets, and smartwatches. On average, Americans spend over five hours per day using just their phones, with some millennials reporting they’re on phones for a whopping twelve hours per day.
Absent an apocalyptic event, we can assume screens are here to stay. But before we throw up our hands in surrender, we should consider the destructive effects of screen time on our relationships. Especially our marriage relationship.
If screens pose a tactical threat to our marriages, let’s think about defense from a military point of view. As an Air Force spouse, I’m quite familiar with Force Protection Levels. These levels are posted on military bases and determine the amount of security one might encounter when entering the front gate. I have used this concept to create Marriage Protection Levels for screen use. After identifying each threat level, I will offer defensive strategies from God’s word to repel the assault.
Marriage Protection Levels
Threat Level ALPHA: Generalized Neglect
Designed to attract and hold our attention, screens make stealth raids on time and attention, diverting us from our priorities of God, marriage, and family.
- The instant gratification of screens degrades interpersonal skills. Constant bombardment with screens—usually entertainment—weakens the brain’s ability to sustain attention needed to combat neglect in marriage. Sustained screen time also diminishes the patience required to empathize, compromise, and rationally solve problems.
- Screen time distracts us from devotions and Bible study. So often, I’ve sat down with my Bible and find myself taking “just a minute” to check my calendar or google a question. Somehow, a minute often lapses into an hour. Lately, even church has been reduced to screen time. Instead of going to church together to worship and fellowship with God, many couples opt to view the message online at a convenient time, often not even together. Distance from God increases marriage vulnerability.
- Screen time interferes with marital relationship time. Marriage includes a lifelong pursuit of better understanding your spouse. When screens dominate most of your attention, conversation with your beloved is reduced to only what is absolutely necessary. Unheard heart issues lie just below the surface like landmines waiting to explode at the slightest provocation.
- Screen time often pulls us away from household responsibilities. Honey-do lists fall by the wayside as glowing devices seize control of our time. We’re binge-watching instead of bathroom cleaning, gaming instead of grass mowing. Sometimes we even neglect responsibilities with our children. Ignoring chores and home maintenance defers problems until they become stressful emergencies, adding pressure to a marriage.
- Screens in the bedroom often lead to neglect of intimacy. Instead of enjoying one another, couples lie in bed, each watching their own device until falling asleep.
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37 NLT).
So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NLT).
Threat Level BRAVO: Increased, Predictable Value Conflicts
Secular media consumption through screen time assaults the values of every Christian home.
- Screens exert great pressure to compromise God’s holy standard. Stories and images from media are sensual, appealing to our flesh rather than our spirit. It usually starts as a minor skirmish. “I know this show pushes the limits, but it’s so entertaining,” I justify, rationalizing that “this one time” won’t contaminate my heart or home. Before long, neither my husband nor I can muster the strength to stop sin. And like yeast affects an entire lump of dough, so ongoing sin taints a marriage.
- Screens specialize in fear that storms our marriages. Fear sells, so the media is saturated with it. Whether it’s a crime drama with blood and gore or the all-day streaming news, fear breaks into our homes and hearts through the back door of insecurity. Controlling our minds, emotions, and fear, rather than trust in God, drive marital decision-making.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2 NLT).
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8 NLT).
Threat Level CHARLIE: Likely Targeted Action by Outside Influences
Though we don’t often think much about it, our screens open the front door of our homes and marriages to the influence of strangers.
- Social media “relationships” influence us, both consciously and subconsciously. How many “friends” do you have on social media? Do you really know them all? Probably not. Yet we eagerly follow their posts. They sway our opinions, our desires, and even our buying. And, of course, we compare. Everyone’s life looks better than mine. Her husband is so considerate. His wife always looks so attractive. And then a more destructive thought creeps in. Why isn’t my husband or wife like that? Discontent with our relationship inevitably follows hot on the heels of comparison.
- Multiplayer gaming platforms and virtual realities promote meeting and communicating with strangers. It seems so easy to share personal information while hiding behind the anonymity of an avatar. We forget we have no way to truly vet anyone we meet online. Most people carefully craft the impression they want to reveal. Some even have predatory intentions. Believing that bonds formed online are genuine can cause division between husband and wife.
Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant (2 Corinthians 10:12 NLT)!
Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble (Proverbs 13:20 NLT).
Threat Level DELTA: Imminent Attack of Addiction
We hear all the warnings about app developers designing products that create synapses, or connections, in our brains that can lead to addiction. But we never think it will happen to us. Yet many marriages have failed because of online addictions.
- Games and social media can suck us into a black hole within fifteen seconds. We use game apps to pass the time waiting for appointments. Or maybe we play for “just a few minutes” before going to sleep. We don’t usually consider such things addictions, but perhaps we should. How easily can we put them down? Do we know how much time we actually spend on these apps? Like any addiction, screen dependence will negatively impact your marriage.
- Pornography is rampant on the internet. Only the rare individual escapes exposure and both men and women can succumb to its lure. Lingering on a suggestive photo for even a moment can lead into the depths of addiction. Continual exposure to pornographic images, videos, and stories demeans the good gift of sex within marriage and debases both you and your spouse.
- Other habitual online activities such as gambling reach right into your home and finances. Finances can be quickly wiped out, causing severe marital conflict.
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure (1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT).
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
A Strong Defense Is a Good Offense
Screens aren’t always the enemy. No doubt, we can benefit from them. But without a strategic defense, our marriages can quickly be overrun. Our true enemy is also the enemy of God—Satan. He takes advantage of any chink in our armor to appeal to our traitorous flesh, our sinful desires.
But God has overcome Satan, and His Word gives us the ability to find balance in using our devices. Ask God to reinforce your commitment to defend your marriage from the onslaught of screen time. With a strong defense, you can use screen time for your good and God’s glory.
Annie Yorty uses her writing and speaking to encourage others to perceive God’s person, presence, provision, and purpose in the unexpected twists and turns of life. Married to her high school sweetheart and living in Pennsylvania, she mothers a teen, two adult children (one with intellectual disabilities), and a furry beast labradoodle. Please connect with her at http://annieyorty.com/, Facebook, and Instagram.