In this day and age, it feels impossible to avoid technology. The car is a computer on wheels; restaurant menus are giant scrolling TV screens; and everyone seems to be holding a tiny tablet in their hands at all times. On one hand: it’s pretty awesome. Technology allows us to do things we thought impossible just a few years ago, and the pace of technological advancement is quicker than it has been at any other time in history. On the other hand, research has shown that technology impacts personal relationships negatively due to the emotional miscommunication. It’s difficult to convey genuine emotion through a text message in the same way that a face-to-face conversation can, especially when you can’t see facial expressions, nonverbal cues, or hear tone of voice.
I typically hear from couples that one or both partners is “always on their phone.” When I hear that phrase, I’m curious about what the phone rules are for the couple. I’m also curious about how each partner experiences those moments when they are more attentive to their phones than to each other. Even beyond phone usage, any time your partner is paying more attention to something else and seemingly ignoring you, it feels like a gut punch. There’s the logical thought, “I can wait. Whatever they’re paying attention to must be important.” The emotional thought is, “I want to matter most to my partner, and right now I feel like I don’t matter.” Conflict arises from situations like these, and couples need to repair and prevent future conflicts as much as possible.
Here are a couple of ideas to try to reduce the negative impacts of technology in a relationship:
- Practice mindful phone and electronic usage. Set aside specific times throughout your day when you can expect to sit down and address any (and hopefully all) red notification bubbles that pop up. Start by picking three 1-hour time blocks when you can communicate to others and let them know they can expect a reply from you (e.g., 9AM, 1PM, and 4PM). Setting boundaries creates healthy expectations from others about your availability and accessibility. Knowing you have time blocks set aside throughout your days everyday can give you the peace of mind of knowing that there will be opportunities to address all messages. This leaves you with more chances to spend screen-free evenings with your partner or even just by yourself decompressing at the end of the day.
- Spend at least 15 minutes screen-free with your partner at the end of each day. If you already have a usual bedtime routine with your partner, try adding in an extra few minutes of screen-free check-in time. This gives you both an opportunity for positive connection and intimacy at the end of every day. It could be right after dinner, before getting ready for bed, or even as you’re getting underneath the covers. Put all the screens down: TV off, phones on silent, and laptops shut. Sit and face one another and ask each other a couple simple questions to start. How was your day? What made you happy today? What made you sad today? What are you looking forward to tomorrow? What are you looking forward to next weekend? The point is to focus on each other, not what’s on the screens.
- Track your phone usage and set a goal for yourself for the week. Most smartphones have a feature that tracks your screen time usage on a week-to-week basis. The report can categorize the phone usage as well, according to social media, entertainment, productivity, etc. Try using that built-in function to your advantage. Set a phone usage goal for the week for each category and see how well the week goes. Talk to your partner and challenge each other to more or less time spent in different categories. Who can be on their phones the least throughout the week? Who has the higher ratio of productivity vs. social media? Make it a game, and make weaning off the phones fun!
Creating some distance from our technology has beneficial effects for all of us — both individually and in our relationships. Give the above tips a try, and then let us know what a difference it makes for you.
An Thai, MS provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our Sterling, VA office. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with An.