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Technology (Mis)Use and Your Relationship

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Technology facilitates modern life, with nearly all of us relying on our cellphones, email and social media to communicate, stay connected and talk with our spouses and partners. In 2019, mobile accounted for 79 percent of social media site visits in the United States.

Smartphones and other devices are the place where much of life happens, including where unhealthy relationship patterns can develop. As a result, it should come as no surprise that the misuse of technology in relationships is a growing form of domestic abuse.

What is technology-facilitated abuse?

Technology-facilitated abuse, sometimes called digital abuse, is the use of communications such as texts, social media and emails to bully, harass or intimidate a spouse or partner. It also includes stalking behaviors, where one partner uses apps and malware to keep tabs on the other partner’s location, activities and communications with friends and family.

Examples of behavior that may indicate your partner’s misuse of technology include:

  • Unwanted tracking of your location. Many apps, including fitness and social media apps, share your location. If your partner is tracking your location when you don’t want them to, this could be considered stalking or controlling behavior.
  • Pushing for explicit content. You should be comfortable with the material you are sharing with your partner. Pressuring you to share texts, images or videos, particularly of a sexual nature, are signs of sexual coercion.
  • Unwanted sharing. Your partner should not be sharing texts, images or videos from you without your consent.
  • Emotional abuse. Does your partner talk to you or about you on social media in a negative or insulting way? Are you afraid of not immediately responding to their texts or other messaging? This may be a sign of emotional abuse, bullying or harassment.
  • Privacy violations. Even within a relationship, each partner has the right to privacy. The sharing of passwords, texts, phone calls and social media accounts should be consensual. For more information, read this article on cellphone safety.

Recognizing how technology works in your relationship

Sometimes it is difficult to know when the use of technology is inappropriate, and the answer may vary for different couples. But if you feel your partner is using technology to control you, something is wrong.

When you examine the role tech plays in your relationship or that of someone you love, it can be helpful to do so with a clear understanding of your rights in a healthy relationship. In a healthy relationship, you should feel empowered to:

  • Control how, when and whether any images of you are posted online or on social media, or communicated via email or text.
  • Turn off your phone and spend time with friends and family without fear of your partner getting angry.
  • Say no to sending pictures, videos or information to your partner that make you uncomfortable.
  • Keep your logins and passwords private.
  • Control your privacy settings and activities on social networking sites and decide whether to accept any tags of yourself in photos shared by others.

Above all, you deserve to feel safe and respected in your relationship, online or off. It is always a good idea to talk to your partner and set clear expectations about how you want to use tech in your relationship, and what behaviors cross a line for you. Consider this resource from LoveIsRespect.org, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

If you have let your partner know that their behavior with technology makes you uncomfortable, yet it continues, then you have cause for concern. When your partner’s misuse of tech becomes habitual, it’s domestic abuse.

What to do if technology use in your relationship isn’t safe

If the use of technology in your relationship has become a problem, you need to know that it is not your fault. You are not alone, and help is available. Whether you are looking for help in talking to your partner about hitting reset on the use of tech in your relationship to establish healthy boundaries — or want to report domestic abuse facilitated through technology — the military community has your back.

You can:

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Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored, visit the 24/7 Family Advocacy Program Victim Advocate Locator or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800−799−7233.