The time and attention some people devote to their phones is enough to make even the most patient partner jealous.
According to Pew Research Center, 67 percent of people with a cell phone check their phone without hearing a ring or feeling a vibration, 44 percent sleep next to their phone and 29 percent describe their phone as "something they can't imagine living without." How... romantic?
Our devices have become the "third party in the relationship," according to Nancy Mramor, Ph.D., a media and health psychologist. The problem is: With all of this technology at our fingertips, she said, we lose a lot of intimacy with our partners.
We spoke to Mramor, psychologist Goal Auzeen Saedi, Ph.D., and Steve Brody, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Renew Your Marriage At Midlife to help spell out how your relationship will benefit from a little less screen time:
1. You'll be more connected to your partner when the two of you are together.
Technology has been able to connect billions of people. But when it comes to deeper IRL connections, constantly connecting to our phones means disconnecting from the person sitting right beside us.
"A lot of connection is about facial expressions, vocal inflection, body language," Saedi said. "If we're looking down at a screen, we're missing all of that critical information that tells us about what our partners are really feeling."
Mramor added that multitasking on your phone while conversing with your partner doesn't really cut it if you want to fully understand your partner -- you can only listen deeply if you look away from your phone, make eye contact and focus your undivided attention on him or her. This, she said, will ultimately bring the two of you closer.
2. You might be able to stop fights before they happen.
As more and more communication happens over text messaging, Saedi said that misunderstandings in tone can happen easily, which can not only lead to fights but also cause them to escalate quickly.
"You may have read something as, 'OK that person used the word whatever -- that must mean that they're angry,'" she said "But somebody else might say, 'No! Whatever just means whatever.'"
The use of text messages to apologize or settle disagreements was associated with a lower relationship quality for women, according to a study of adults ages 18 to 25 at Brigham Young University.
"There's a lot of context and richness that's lost [in text messages and emails]," Brody said. "The words are a very small part of the communication. The tone is extremely important, and you miss that."
3. You might just find a better work/life balance, which will put less stress on your relationship.
Mramor said, oftentimes, her clients' device obsessions can be traced back to being overly involved with work. Responding to work emails 24/7, she said, means that a person can't be present for their partner.
"The problem is that we've brought our inboxes with us everywhere we go," Saedi said. "You might be with your partner in the middle of a beautiful date and then suddenly you get an angry text or email from your boss. If you hadn't had your phone, that moment wouldn't have been ruined."
4. Your partner may feel more appreciated -- without you having to spend money on gifts or fancy meals.
When you spend your entire dinner with your partner texting a friend or answering emails, you're communicating that your partner is not as important as your device, said Mramor. She said it's very easy for partners to internalize this brush off and think you're trying to say: Gee, it’s nice that you're here, but this is nicer. I’d rather take this message than talk with you.
Fortunately, Brody said that, more often than not, this isn't what the device-using partner really wants to communicate -- it's just how their actions impact the other person. Simply keeping your phone out of sight (and out of earshot) can make your partner feel appreciated and heard.
"Especially in this day and age, when we're often running in a million different directions at once, the time that we're together tends to be rare," Saedi said. "Those are really precious moments."
5. You could open the door for a better sex life -- or even just better sleep.
A big bedtime no-no, according to Brody, is bringing devices into the bedroom.
"It's certainly going to kill foreplay," he said. "And even if there wasn't a sexual idea in mind for bedtime, it's just nice to be in bed quietly together reading a book or something."
As a rule, Saedi said she advices her clients to turn off phones, laptops and televisions one to two hours before bedtime.
So what can you do if you want to reduce your screen time as a couple? Here are some ideas from the experts:
- Talk about your expectations: Brody said that it's best to come up with an agreement, write it down and check in about it regularly.
- Establish tech-free times and/or areas, like mealtimes or the bedroom. But if your partner fails, Mramor said, "Don't criticize them, just talk about the consequences." She recommended saying something like, "When you answer your phone when I am telling you about my day, it interrupts the flow of our conversation and I don’t want to talk anymore."
- Set up time limits: "Let's say you're spending the day together," Saedi said. "Give yourself five to 10 minutes to check emails, do what you need to do and then put the phone away."
- Delete apps that might be particularly distracting, like Facebook or Twitter, or make sure certain email accounts don't appear on your phone. "Setting boundaries is very important," said Saedi.
- Try a technology cleanse. Whether it's a day, a weekend or an entire vacation, see how it feels to be decidedly device-less.
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