Our cell phones connect us to the world. GPS helps us navigate to new locations, photos capture memories, and we can call, text, and video chat with friends and family, no matter where they live. Unfortunately, despite the promise of connection, in more intimate relationships, cell phones may actually be driving us apart. Even couples who met online are prone to ignoring each other when cell phones enter the picture.
Dependence Versus Use
To understand whether device use is likely to push a couple apart, it’s important to look at how much an individual feels they need their device, not necessarily how much they actually use it. People who use their phones a lot but don’t feel that they need them can easily put them aside and engage with their partner. In those with a high level of dependence, though, being separated from their phone can cause anxiety, an especially common problem among teens. This may interfere with their ability to develop intimate relationships with their first partners and leave them unprepared for more adult relationships later in life.
Blocking Out The Body
Another problem with the excessive use of mobile phones in intimate relationships is that, when we’re constantly looking at our phones, we can’t communicate clearly because we’re not paying attention to each other’s body language. So much of the time, the more nuanced elements of our communication occurs in glances, posture, and how people hold their bodies relative to each other. Without being attentive to that information, we can’t really understand what our partners are saying and can’t respond appropriately.
One harmful emotion you may be missing out on by looking at your phone: rejection. When you look at your phone instead of your partner when spending time together, you may make them feel like they’re unworthy of attention. This can also hurt your partner’s self-esteem and impact your physical intimacy in the long-term. Why be physically close with someone who doesn’t treat you like you matter?
Fighting The Temptation
So what can you do to protect your relationship from the harmful impact of phones? Obviously, the most straightforward solution is to just put your phone away, but those who experience a feeling of dependence around phone use may struggle with that. In order to slowly begin to reduce phone use, then, it may help to identify specific times that you want to prioritize decreased phone use, such as during meals. You want to be realistic about your limits, as success will make you more likely to continue working to decrease your phone dependence.
One way that many couples try to decrease their phone use while paying more attention to each other is by placing their phones face down on the table while they eat. That way, if one of you reaches for your phone, that impulse is easily stifled. It can also help to turn off your notifications so that your phone isn’t constantly buzzing and alerting you of – ultimately unimportant – activity online. Without the alerts, it’s easier to resist checking your phone because it isn’t actively demanding your attention.
Cell phones are necessary tools and they can make your relationship stronger when you and your partner are apart, but that doesn’t mean you always need to have it in hand. Instead, set it aside and turn to your partner. You’ll have richer conversations face to face than you’ll ever have via text message.