Three Strange Words That Might Just Save You This Valentine's Day


Gearing up for Valentine's Day? So are retailers. We spend a fortune trying to get cupid on our side-last year's sales climbed to nearly $19 billion. And even though the dipped berries, roses, and wining and dining can be nice, two new research studies reveal we just may want to rethink our Valentine's M.O. It turns out the gift that could actually serve to improve a relationship costs nothing. Not a cent. Au contraire, not giving it can cost us a lot more than we might suspect.

Beyond the bling, there's something else we should be paying attention to. Literally. Most of us have never heard of it, until researchers at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business recently revealed their findings on relationship satisfaction.

Was it teddy bears? Godiva? Putting a ring on it? Nope. Apparently, the best gift of all is undivided attention. And there are three not-so-simple words to keep on our radar that might just save us beyond the $142.00 average we spend to make our Valentine smile:

Word # 1-Phubbing: A clever melding of "phone" and "snub", this can wreak havoc on our relationships. The constant checking and not-so-sneak-peeks are adding up, disrupting not only our fulfillment in relationships, but overall sense of well-being.

Word # 2-Technoference: Defined as "everyday intrusions and interruptions in our interactions due to technology", a newly released January 2016 study out of Penn State's Department of Human Development and Family Studies warns us to be on the lookout against the negative impact of these constant tech invasions.

In this study, researchers Brandon T. McDaniel and Sarah Coyne suggest the implicit message we send when we favor messages on our devices over being present in the moment put our relationships at risk for conflict and negative outcomes.

And it seems that we do sweat the small stuff. Their findings reveal it wasn't just big interruptions that were problematic. Even seemingly small disruptions can build up over time to create tension and a sense of disconnect.

Even with good intentions, it seems like there's no easy way around this. We've all been on the giving and receiving end of phubbing, and we could likely use a referee to guard against the constant technoferences coming our way. Our phones are constantly in our hands, and truth be told, there are a lot of positive aspects to the connections they bring.

These positive and seemingly inevitable aspects of life-with-phones-as appendages might contribute to why we suffer from this final Valentine word of the day:

Word # 3-Nomophobia: The fear associated with being away from our phones is a modern day phenomenon. We want to stay in the loop and on top of our checklists. Our brains light up when something flashes across our screens. The positive rewards cannot be denied. We must be getting something from the countless times we check, recheck and check. Many of us topple into the hundreds before the day is through.

Somehow, we've become unwitting actors and actresses in the ultimate human behavior experiment that would have made B. F. Skinner swoon. All those dings and rings make us predictably come back for more, like mice on cheese, even when we know it might bring about negative consequences. Yet, the lines of defining time and place have become increasingly blurry in our always-on, tell-us-what-you're-up-to every-second, stuff-your-feed culture.

This has been a constant theme in my clinical work. People come to see me for therapy to work towards positive behavioral changes. The constant screen sucking of partners is a frequent gripe. And as we know, the long-term damage can't be undone even with a stellar Valentine's day showing. So, even though it may seem less than romantic, here are some no-cost ways to save you now and possibly in the long run:

1. Create no phubbing zones. Don't let technoference bring your relationship down. Try and set times of the day where you break from your device to tune in to the people you care about. Agree on limits and stick to them. Your phone will always be there, but your partner may not be if you continually tune them out.

2. Don't get defensive. It's hard receiving feedback when our phubbing becomes annoying or hurtful. Try to remember that someone's request for you to become more present is a sign they care, not just a criticism. If it's hard for you, you're not alone-the advent of technology and the vast array of unintended consequences brings us to needing more evidence-based ways that help us set needed limits. It's all so new, and the powerful lure it brings requires our best thinking and resourcefulness.

3. Remember the cost. As research reveals, low relationship satisfaction can be associated with depression and disrupt our overall sense of well-being. Healthy behaviors, habits, individuals and relationships contribute towards better health outcomes. It's not worth keeping up with everyone and everything if we miss out on what's right in front of us.

What's your move this Valentine's Day? If you're out and about, do your own informal human behavior experiment and see if you catch any couple's in the act of phubbing. Ask your partner or close companions how they see it, and whether you can make changes that might just save you something more valuable than even the cost of your champagne. Ka-ching!

Dr. Kristen Lee Costa is a behavioral science professor, therapist and author of Reset: Make the Most of Your Stress, named motivational book of 2015.