What does your cell phone have to do with marriage problems? Recently, several prominent news sources have presented surveys and research that point to the problem with cell phones and romantic relationships. One survey reported that “70 percent of women said smartphones were interfering in their romantic relationship.” That’s a huge number of women! In NPR’s recent story “technoference” was citied as a serious problem in relationships. Aside from the question of what you are actually doing on the device, the accessibility and pervasiveness of the devices in our lives is causing several problems. Cell phones are the worst kind of distraction, the convenience of access to all your email accounts, the camera, the social media accounts, not to mention the thousands of other apps you can fill your device with offer an endless stream of information. This coupled with the dings, ringtones and other alerts that make everyone in the room look at their phone in some sort of pavlovian response to a bell are bound to cause marriage problems.
There are certainly big questions to answer individually and culturally about the influence these devices have on our lives. Technology no doubt has it’s place in daily life. If we can thoughtfully engage with it it can actually be used for good in the relationship. Time savings is one instance that can benefit your romantic relationships. If you are able to take care of a task like paying bills that may have in the past taken up precious evening time at the kitchen table you can use that time you’ve gained to connect with your spouse, but do you? The evidence seems pretty clear that by and large they are causing more marriage problems than they solve. In her research, Sarah Coyne, boiled it down to this, “What I think the most important finding is, the more you let the technology interfere, the more conflict you have with your spouse or partner and that leads to not feeling great about the relationship.” So where is the balance? Obviously this question is best left to each couple to navigate, provided the right skills are there to actually have a win win outcome!
So here are a few tips for curbing the potential marriage problems caused by technoference…
1. Set some ground rules. When you get home from work, put your phones in a drawer, closet, or the top of the fridge. Find a place far enough out of reach to require that extra step if you do need to check in. Agree on a device free time frame, especially for parents those short and precious hours from the time we get home from work to bedtime are perfect device free zones. After that finding a balance between relaxation time and couple time will be a personal decision.
2. Identify device free zones. One of the consequences of our device centered culture is that there is almost nowhere anymore where devices don’t go. They go out with us, they come home with us, we take them to restaurants, work, friends houses, movies, the car, public transportation, the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom, you get the idea. Making a conscious effort to create device free zones is a good way to ensure there is time to disconnect from the outside world and focus on your partner. The bedroom is an especially important place to set boundaries, bad habits can easily contribute to intimacy issues.
3. Make a plan for what to do when you (or your partner) slips up. It’s bound to happen, even the best laid plans go awry. Maybe there’s an important email you are waiting for, or the gravitational pull of Facebook is too strong to resist and you slip. Agreeing on a way you can gently remind your partner without sounding like a nag or getting into crossover territory is a good way to keep each other in check.
4. Edit your device. Just because you downloaded an app once doesn’t mean it needs to stick around. Consider what makes your phone useful and enjoyable and get rid of the rest. Consider deleting Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other app that falls into the “worst offender” category. You can still set aside time to engage in your online communities, it just won’t creep into every corner of your life.
The bottom line is that devices are here to stay. Take some time to make a thoughtful approach to how you engage with your devices and avoid marriage problems down the line.