Building Better Marriages

By Rob Furlong

Practice being present around the table


As people have become increasingly addicted to texting and social media, articles advising us about what the appropriate etiquette required in social settings have also increased. A practice that is becoming more common place consists of those who are dining out together placing their mobiles into a basket located in the centre of the table. The first person to use their phone during the evening pays a heavy price for doing so – they agree to pay for everyone's meal for using their phone!

An inventive restaurant owner in Israel late last year began offering a fifty percent discount on all meals for customers who agreed to turn off their mobiles while they ate. As the owner said, "...when you eat ...especially with family and your friends, you can just wait for half an hour and enjoy the food and enjoy the company."

This obsessive need to feel "connected" has been described by Claire Diaz-Ortiz as "The Overwhelm Epidemic" and the evidence shows that it is increasing our stress levels dramatically. When you combine our addiction to social media such as Facebook and Twitter with the incessant demands and information that also pours relentlessly through our work and private inboxes each day, it is little wonder that the majority of people are dissatisfied with their work/life balance and with the level of stress they are experiencing in life.

From my own observations, the Overwhelm Epidemic also seriously impacts our relationships with each other. Whether we realise it or not, we are quickly losing the art of conversation with people and becoming more and more uncomfortable with sitting with someone over a meal or a cup of coffee without having to resort to our mobiles. To be fair, this is not a new phenomenon – swap your mobile phone for the TV remote and you have a fairly accurate portrayal of how my generation communicated to each other! The difference now is that the mobile is so conveniently portable – when I was young it was a pretty safe bet that no one would drag a portable TV along with them to a restaurant and so we learned the skill of being able to talk to one another around a table.

Diaz-Ortiz has some helpful advice for those of us who do not want to live our lives "dominated by digital tools" and it involves a daily routine that she has established to help her prepare for the day ahead and to keep things in balance. She calls it PRESENT and it consists of:

P = pray or pause or peace

R = read (something life-giving)

E = express (write down what is on your mind/heart)

S = schedule (everything you have to do for the day)

E = exercise

N = nourish (do something you enjoy doing)

T = track (what you did today and how it may affect tomorrow)

Diaz-Ortiz follows the first four early in the morning and practices the last three at day's end.

I think the benefits from following a simple discipline such as this in our lives and relationships is enormous. As we take the time to slow down, take stock of our lives and free ourselves from the clutches of the Overwhelm Epidemic we will inevitably become more present with each other.

Who needs a basket in the middle of the restaurant table then?!

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