They are a young couple married last year. And both work in town—the man at a reputable organisation and the woman is a banker. We will call them Ryan and Betty.
The two live in Chinyonga Township in Blantyre City and each drive to work every morning. In their house every item is modern—from the car they drive to the bed they lie on. To those watching from outside, the couple is the very embodiment of modernity.
But their marriage life boat is sailing on rough waters—thanks to social media.
“Every day after work, my husband and I do not find time to chat with each other. Everyone is deeply engrossed in chatting with virtual friends either on Facebook or WhatsApp,” complains Betty.
The situation replicates itself in the bedroom. There, the couple continues their social media life. Betty faces the other side texting friends on WhatsApp and Ryan the other side also interacting with friends on Facebook.
It is a situations best captured in the lines of a poem titled Talking in Bed by Philip Larkin that sometimes couples can be physically together in bed but emotionally away from each other.
“Talking in bed ought to be the easiest/Lying together there goes back so far/An emblem of two people being honest/Yet more and more time passes silently.”
According to these four lines, sleeping together in bed is a physical manifestation of love and talking to each other ought to be easy but the opposite is happening.
Psychologist from College of Medicine Dr. Chiwoza Bandawe chides couples doing this and urges them to make time to chat together without the interference of social media.
“When one of them is caught up in a world of their own in preference to social media to chatting with each other, they are deliberately creating a rift between themselves,” he warns.
Bandawe says couples should ask each other how their day at work was like instead of burying their attention on Facebook or WhatsApp.
“We are losing by being taken up by technology. Nowadays a phone is like a person as it demands attention,” Bandawe explains.
And it was failure to use social media to enhance love in marriage that separated a couple in Machinjiri in Blantyre recently when the wife found nude pictures of her husband making love to another woman on his WhatsApp account.
“My husband always hid his phone pattern from me and I was curious to know why he was refusing to reveal the pattern,” she narrates.
One night the man unlocked the phone but immediately left it and went outside. She quickly grabbed it and peeped through the WhatApp page.
“On it were love text messages and pictures other women were sending him,” she says.
And Betty says that she and her husband do not want the other to log in to their Facebook accounts or WhatsApp—their phones have patterns that remain hidden.
“The rift between us came in December last year when I asked my man to give me a pattern to his phone but he refused. So I suspected that he is hiding something in his phone. In retaliation, I created a new pattern to my phone and will not reveal it until he tells me his,” says Betty.
Such is the situation in many marriages in this modern day of technology. Just when the digital age was supposed to enhance the quality of family relationship, some couples are breaking up because of the same.
“On social media a person interacts with other people and they create a world of their own where they preoccupy themselves. And this reduces the quality of their relationship,” says Bandawe.
Chancellor College based sociologist Charles Chilimampunga agrees with Bandawe that social media is posing a big challenge to married couples.
“It is true that social media is dividing families. You find a man, woman and children each absorbed in interacting with friends on social media. They don’t have time for each other,” observes Chilimampunga.
Chilimampunga says people need to have quality time together. “Once they come home they should leave their phones and be one family. They can use their phones outside the home.”
Director of marriage, education and research Daniel Chibwana says it is bad that couples should be divided because of social media.
“Couples who get consumed by social media to the extent of affecting their relationship show that they are taking social media as their idol. They are creating a distance between themselves,” he says.
The amount of intimacy is reduced each day when the couples start idolising social media. Couples should learn to use social media to build their families, advises Chibwana.
On hiding phone patterns however, Bandawe says there are dynamics in every family.
“I’m not going to prescribe what should be done as regarding couples sharing patterns of their phones as there are so many dynamics in each family,” says Bandawe.
But Bandawe argues that people need to realise that they should have control over their phones and not the other way round.
“When you are home with your family, put those phones aside and chat with your family,” he advises.
It is Chibwana who says that there should be no secrets between couples to enhance trust in each other and says hiding a pattern is a signal of danger in marriage.
“If a man or a woman’s phone has a pattern or password, the other should know it. Why hide it if there is nothing sinister happening when you are interacting with friends on social media,” he wonders.